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HomeOPINIONHow shopping centres can make a difference with community service

How shopping centres can make a difference with community service

As much as we pride ourselves on our healthy and progressive economy, there are always, unfortunately, those who need a little financial help. As the senior marketing manager for a large new shopping centre in Auckland, NorthWest Shopping Centre, I can say that our community engagement has revealed that our pocket of the city – a growing and increasingly affluent one – is not immune to hardship.

What can a community-minded business with a strong marketing platform do to make a measurable difference to the lives of those who live in its surrounds? Here is what I’ve learned since we opened NorthWest in late 2015:

  1. Keep schools front and centre. Everyone cares about education, and in all communities there are parents (and grandparents) who want their kids to have everything they need to succeed. We have nearly a dozen schools in our catchment area, some of them classified as low-decile, and from even before we opened the centre in 2015, we knew one of the best ways we could prove our long-term commitment to the community was to find ways to support schools. While the centre was under construction, we introduced ourselves to the community and visited schools to get to know them. This was paramount: we learned that teachers and parents are passionate about providing opportunities for young ones to learn and have new experiences. A number of schools, such as Hobsonville Primary School, Colwill School and West Harbour School, performed at the opening of NorthWest Shopping Centre in October 2015. Many schools continue to rely on the shopping centre as a platform for young students to perform on weekends to gain experience in the performing arts.

  1. Help people give back. Most people will happily fork out a dollar or two at a fundraising sausage sizzle or drop a few coins in a charity bucket, and we see ourselves as a facilitator of community goodwill. We also want to make our shoppers feel good. Our current NorthWest Rewards campaign is designed to serve as a conduit between shoppers and the wider community, in a way that is fun and not onerous – shoppers take their receipt/s to Customer Service and vote for one of 11 local schools, and the dollar value of their shopping will be assigned to that school. At the end of the campaign, the total spend assigned to each school will be divided by the number of students enrolled at that school, and the school with the highest average spend per student will win $3,000 cash (the second-ranked school will receive $2,000 cash and the third $1,000 cash). Shoppers don’t have to spend an extra cent to help out, and three local schools will have a much-needed windfall, all thanks to the community.
  1. Look for community leaders. One of the most active community advocates in our area is Rob Taylor, the principal of Colwill School, who has been very candid about how his school’s low decile rating means it needs all the funding help it can get. As a result, we have designed our marketing and fundraising activities to provide assistance where it’s most needed. At Colwill School, extra money would be a big help to the music, art, ICT and PE departments, so when we design campaigns such as NorthWest Rewards, we have these specific areas of need in mind.
  1. Be responsive to approaches, and consider partnerships. We are approached weekly by schools, community groups, play centres and others to support their fundraising efforts. All of these requests are worthy, and often they’re quite urgent. We make every effort to accommodate everyone within our community and to support each group in some capacity. For instance, we have allowed the centre to be used as collateral to raise funds: Marina View School auctioned off a site tour before the opening of the centre; the curiosity of the community to have a sneak peek of the centre translated to valuable funds for the school. We have supported Massey High School students with Christmas gift-wrapping to fundraise for overseas trips; we regularly host performances by various schools; and we are the venue for the annual North West Schools Art Exhibition each September. A real bonus of these partnerships is that we’re also promoting the arts, which enriches the whole community.

If there is anything I have learnt in this role it is that the more we support those around us, the more we as a business and our community prosper.

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