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Creating a Vehicle Donation Program

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Watching the video, Dino Di Giulio was overwhelmed. It seemed so simple, he says. He just never had a way to relate to it before.

His whole life, Di Giulio has had a car—often two or three; vehicles he was fixing up for himself or to sell. That’s how his career started as a 16-year-old wannabe technician in his grandparent’s old barn. His passion for cars, like many in the industry, is what his business was founded on.

The impact of cars on the everyday life of people, though, is something that never fully hit home until watching that video.

“A friend of mine who owns a shop in Arkansas was fixing up vehicles to give away through Recycled Rides, and he had this video of the giveaway on his website,” Di Giulio says. “I’m watching this video and I’m just amazed at how emotional of an experience it is. I was overwhelmed by how much you can change someone’s life by helping them get around better.”

That’s the moment Di Giulio decided to start a similar campaign through his shop, Body Best Collision Center in Sonoma, Calif. And that’s the moment Wheels to Prosper was born.

Three years later, Wheels to Prosper is a national program with 21 participating repair shops. It’s helped dozens of individuals and families from all corners of the country by donating restored vehicles.

GIVING BACK: Dino Di Giulio, here with vehicle recipient Kathleen St. John, says Wheels to Prosper allows him to give back to the community that makes his shop successful. Photo by Rick Bolen

It also serves as a prime example of the impact small businesses can have on their communities, says Jim Smith of Management Success!, and it’s proof of the positive impact that charitable habits can have on a shop in return.

“There’s always something of need in every community, especially today when a lot of smaller towns are really hurting,” Smith says. “Your shops are a part of those communities, and it’s the community that is supporting your business. Wheels to Prosper helps [those shops] give back, and customers recognize that.”

Building a Program

Body Best has been located on the same lot in downtown Sonoma since Di Giulio moved the business there as a 21-year-old in 1990. At the time, the facility was just 1,800 square feet—still bigger than the barn he started out in, but a modest beginning nonetheless.

Over the past 23 years, Di Giulio has slowly built the business into a dominant fixture in the small town. He’s expanded the facility (now at 12,500 square feet), and 2013 sales are on pace to far exceed the $2.5 million the shop did a year ago.

“My business really grew in this town—I mean, I grew up in this town,” he says. “I feel like I owe so much to this town, and I really wanted to figure out a way to give back.”

The problem, as many shop owners around the country can attest to, is finding something that matched Di Giulio’s schedule of running a business and supporting a family.
The shop was already donating money to causes as it could. Di Giulio and his wife, Trina, are involved as boosters for their sons’ schools and sports teams, for example.

But Di Giulio wanted to do something a little bigger, something that could show his community how much he and his business appreciated it.

That’s when friend Jody Gatchell, owner of A&J Collision Repair in Conway, Ark., showed Di Giulio the video of his shop’s car giveaway through Recycled Rides.

“I knew it was something that would be possible for my shop to do, because my time is tight personally, but to fix up a car and give it away, we already have the means to do that,” he says. “I wanted to do something very locally, though, that was through my shop, rather than another organization. I wanted to be able to have the criteria for who I gave the vehicles to, and be able to see these people around my community.”

So, with Gatchell’s guidance, Di Giulio started to piece together a program.

“The idea was to create a real blueprint for this thing and have it be a true [public relations] program for my shop, one that would actually be effective for my business,” he says.

Truly Prospering

The name was Gatchell’s idea, and Di Giulio loved it the first time he heard it.

“We had been emailing and calling back and forth to get this thing up and running for me,” Di Giulio says, “and I hadn’t even thought about a name at all.

“The word ‘prosper’ is what’s important. The word means ‘to thrive,’ and the whole purpose of the program is to help someone thrive to do more.”

And with that in mind, Di Giulio patched together the program, giving away the first vehicle in May of 2011. The event, he says, was a huge success. He held it at his shop, and with various media in attendance, his shop received a great deal of visibility because of it.

“There was nothing like that feeling giving them the car,” he says. “It was amazing. If I could do it every month, I would.”
While a monthly giveaway wasn’t realistic, Di Giulio and Gatchell came up with an equally lofty ambition: turning Wheels of Prosper into a national program.

Di Giulio and Gatchell are both members of the same 20 Group, and enlisting other members of the group (and the facilitators to consult on the project), Wheels to Prosper had 12 participating facilities in 2012. That number nearly doubled in 2013, and Di Giulio says the new goal is 100 shops.
“That’s the idea,” he says. “We want 100 shops giving away at least 100 vehicles each year [combined].”

Gatchell says the program has had a clear impact on his business.

“I have customers every week who are in here and tell me that’s how they heard of us,” Di Giulio says. “They’ll say, ‘I came here just because of that.’ It’s really pretty amazing, and it feels good that that’s the way people view us.”

Do-It-Yourself Car Giveaway

Thus far, Di Giulio has restored and given away six vehicles for Wheels to Prosper. The process for each giveaway, though, isn’t as simple as finding a car, fixing it, and giving
it away.

Really, Di Giulio says, there are six key areas any shop needs to focus on for creating a vehicle giveaway program.

1. Recipient Criteria. This is what makes a program stand out, Di Giulio says, and it’s the lone requirement for shops participating in Wheels to Prosper. Candidacy must go beyond the need of a vehicle. For Wheels to Prosper, eligible candidates must already be performing some sort of community service. For example, in 2012, Body Best gave a vehicle to a Vietnam veteran, who with his wife volunteered nearly all his free time to working in soup kitchens.

“The criteria is so important,” Di Giulio says. “We want to be giving it to people who, if they have a vehicle, it’s making the entire community that much better.”

2. Form a Selection Committee. This is an important early step, Di Giulio says, because these are likely going to be the people helping you complete the project. For his committee, Di Giulio involved influential people in his town: the mayor, fire chief, local radio talent and the owner of the local newspaper. The idea, he says, is to get people with different perspectives (which will help with selections of winners), and also people who can help promote the cause throughout the community.

3. Divide Responsibilities. It’s rare that a shop can do every aspect of the program completely on its own. Di Giulio says to make sure each aspect of the project is accounted for. This is where his committee comes in. Each helps to use their role to promote the program (in exchange, being able to attach their organization to it). The local fire department hosts the actual giveaway event, and he also has an agreement with a mechanical shop to donate its time, labor and parts to the cause.

4. Pick a Recurring Date and Place. What makes programs like this successful, Di Giulio says, is to make sure it happens each year. It will have little traction in the community (or effect on your shop’s perception) otherwise, he says. Wheels to Prosper organizes a national giveaway day with all of its participating shops on the third Saturday of July. Body Best holds its event at the firehouse. Di Giulio says some people do it at their shop or at an existing community event. Whatever the case, consistency allows your shop to promote it all year, and it makes it simpler for the community to get behind it.

5. Stick to a Schedule. Once your shop has a vehicle, Di Giulio says a shop can pull off an effective giveaway event in three months. But, he says, make sure to fully analyze the amount of time available for your team to perform the repair work on the vehicle. Each shop will be different. To not take any chances, Di Giulio and his Body Best team try to complete the vehicle by February each year, so that the rest of his time leading up the event can focus on the final and, arguably, most important aspect of the program.

6. Promotion. Community support is critical to the success of a program like Wheels to Prosper, and effectively promoting it is the only way to gain that backing. Your shop will need nominations, and to have any sort of positive impact on your business, Di Giulio says people need to know you are the one pushing this program forward. Di Giulio promotes the campaign heavily on his shop’s website and social media platforms. He also does television commercials for it, as well as print and radio advertisements. His committee members and various partner businesses also take up the promotion efforts.


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