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Brandon Eckenrode

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The Collision Repair Education Foundation has come a long way since 1991, when it was founded as a way to address a shortage of technicians entering the business. In recent years it has morphed into a philanthropic machine, giving away millions in scholarships and grants to support the future of the industry.

“To go from $300,000 of support in 2008 to $4.1 million in 2011, that I think is a great story to tell about the industry. That level of support does not happen without our donors,” says Brandon Eckenrode, associate director of development for the education foundation.

Eckenrode recently spoke with FenderBender about the foundation’s mission, how it has changed, and its future goals.


Let’s start with a little background on the Collision Repair Education Foundation.

The Collision Repair Education Foundation was founded back in 1991 under the name I-CAR Education Foundation. Its original purpose was to address the issue of a shortage of technicians in the industry.

Members of the industry got together and formed the I-CAR Education Foundation to help get involved with the schools, secondary and post-secondary, to bring additional technicians into the collision business. How they did that specifically was working with I-CAR; they helped get additional I-CAR training at schools and colleges, and had the students learn so that when they graduate and enter the industry, they had I-CAR training under their belts. They knew the latest and greatest training and repair methods.

That took place from 1991 to 2008. In 2008, the functionality of the curriculum for the schools was transitioned over to I-CAR, being that they are a completely separate organization.
A lot of people think we are one and the same. But really, they’re a 501(c)(6), and we’re a 501(c)(3).


How has that transition gone?

The transition has gone great. In 2008, when we moved the curriculum over to I-CAR, which allowed us to be a purely philanthropic organization, we started receiving donations to help schools— collision programs and their instructors— as many of them are facing budget reductions and things like that. So we consider 2008 as Year One for us. That’s when we could explain and show to the industry that we were a separate entity. We changed our name to the Collision Repair Education Foundation.


Has that helped quite a bit?

It has helped. The education foundation is a staff of two people. It’s myself, and my main function is to collect the donations, and be the industry liaison. My counterpart is Melissa Marscin; she is the main liaison with instructors. When it comes to our scholarships and grants, she is the main contact for that. I raise the donations, and she gives them away. In year one, we’ve been spreading the message of our mission, and we’re able to provide about $300,000 in different types of donations—whether it’s product or monetary or out to the schools. That’s compared to last year, when we provided $4.1 million in donations.


What do you attribute that kind of growth to?

Now that the industry has come around to see our main purpose and exclusive purpose in helping out the schools, they understand that they can participate with us through monetary or in-kind product donations. They can help out schools at the local level. We’ve got companies like 3M who donate on average about $1 million in product a year. They call us up and say, “We’ve got 500 of some product,” and they say, “Can you help us find 500 schools?” Then we get 500 names of schools we can send products to. So that’s at a national level, but we also have companies that participate and want to see their donations stay local. Just recently, for example, Kadel’s Auto Body on the West Coast provided us with a $1,000 donation. We were able to help out a school in their local area, and that makes sense to them because those students could be future Kadel’s Auto Body staff members. So they get to see how their support affected their local schools.

In total, we’ve been able to donate $7 million in product and monetary donations. The majority of that support has been product donations. Sometimes for the companies, it’s easier to write a check, so some instructors get $20 per student each year.


What kinds of items get donated?

It’s a wide range of everything. When it comes to paint companies, some will donate entire waterborne systems to the schools, so it’s a $20,000-plus donation in equipment. That allows the school to work with the latest and greatest technology. The tool companies will donate safety glasses and student tool kits. Sometimes the companies offer any extra products they have on hand.

We’ve been able to offer more with our Makeover Grant, as well. Back in 2009, a year into our philanthropic work, we were trying to come up with a program that would give us a big splash in the industry. We offer student scholarships and tool grants, but we wanted to find some kind of bigger program that could get some excitement around the foundation. So we borrowed from the idea of Extreme Makeover, the television program where they redo someone’s house, and we created an Ultimate Collision Education Makeover grant.

Schools across the country, secondary and post-secondary, apply for this grant. They have to provide, as part of the application, their $50,000 wish list. That way when we pick a winner, it’s not just us handing off a check and wishing them the best of luck.

“When you combine our in-kind donations and our monetary donations, 85 cents of every dollar went back to helping the students.”
—Brandon Eckenrode, associate director of development,
Collision Repair Education Foundation

Each applicant provides an itemized $50,000 wish list of what they need for their specific program. They do provide a wide variety of information and background on their collision program, in terms of placement numbers, and letters of reference from the administration and local industry. These applications we get are sometimes 50 to 75 to 100 pages. We want to make sure the school we select is doing a worthwhile job and needs help. When those applications come in, we fulfill the winning school’s wish list.

We found out, though, that we had the wish lists of all these other schools. Because each school had to provide the company name, and specific parts, we were able to distribute the wish lists to the companies. They could participate with us by donating to the Foundation and then helping the school and being recognized in the makeover. Or we could say, “here’s a list of schools that requested products from the company, and they could use your help.” They’re able to see specific requests from schools, and then donate items as a tax deduction.


I bet they’re appreciative.

It’s one of the nicer parts of my job. The thank-you letters, the pictures; you have instructors calling you up in tears. They would otherwise not be able to afford the improvements to their school.


Overall, what kind of impact do you have on the industry?

I think we’re a great middle person when it comes to the industry and its future. We just show to the students, both secondary and postsecondary level, that the industry cares about them. Not only will this help the education of the future members of the industry, but it also helps enhance their educational experience so that they’re learning with the latest and greatest technology and tools. They can become more efficient, capable employees from day one. I think it fosters a better level of professionalism for these students.


How does the funding structure work for the foundation? If a shop donates, how do you guys decide what to do with that money?

When we receive donations, there are some companies that donate to our collision repair education campaign fund, which is kind of our general fund that helps provide scholarships that are made available through us. It provides funding for our Makeover Grant that we offer every year. They allow us to use the money where it’s needed, and it also helps to keep the organization alive and up
and running.

Some companies want to see the funds go toward their local area, and that’s called a restricted gift. Any good charity, any good 501(c)(3), should be returning at least 70 cents on the dollar toward the main cause. In 2011, for example, when you combine our in-kind donations and our monetary donations, 85 cents of every dollar went back to helping the students.

So that’s good. And it’s not like we have a lot of staff, so that’s helpful. The other key part is that we contract I-CAR staff so we don’t have to have our own HR and IT department. We are completely separate from them, but we utilize their staff to help us when it comes to those departments. We’re located in their office, too. It allows us to not have to spend those extra funds. I-CAR helps us keep costs down.


How can a shop get involved with a restricted gift? Take us through the process of giving such a gift.

The shop can get in contact with us. If they don’t already know a school in a local area, we can always help them find one that’s closest to them, or one that might be more active with us in asking for help. Those are the schools we like to help out first, because they’re actively requesting help in different ways.

We identify the interested shop, the school or schools receiving the gift, and then we would work with the shop depending on the donation. Are they going to help with a student scholarship? Are they going to help with buying the school tools? And then we facilitate the donation by doing all the ordering of the tools. Those get delivered to the school, and then we arrange for a photo opportunity for the shop owner to be there and hand off the tools, showcasing the kind of support that’s provided.


I wanted to touch on the rebuild of the Franklin Technology Center in Joplin, Mo. Where are those efforts at right now?

The tornadoes that hit Joplin in spring 2011 affected the entire town. We received word from their collision instructor at the school. They were in need of support and help. They’re going through their processes of rebuilding, and combining several other schools in one other career center that will take several years to build. But there is also a neighboring warehouse that was still standing after the storms. The collision program was actually holding classes in the warehouse. They were trying to continue on and be able to teach there.

When we got word of that, we had the school apply for the Makeover Grant, so we knew exactly what they were in need of. But they needed more than the makeover; they needed a rebuild because it was completely destroyed.

So in January of this year, in addition to the two makeovers we usually do, we announced that we’re also doing a side support project for the Franklin Technology center. We’re fulfilling their wish list, and inviting industry members to get involved by donating products and time—whatever they can do to help out the school. So by the end of this year, we’re going to be providing the school with at least $50,000 in new equipment and supplies. We look to continue that for the next several years until the new school is completely rebuilt. The industry members have been able to participate by seeing the wish list of the things they’ve requested for the program. Or other companies that have extra products, even if it’s not on the wish list, have contacted us. They want to provide that for schools and their students.


What are some other projects you guys have going on?

In the fall, we announce the winner of the Makeover Grant at the SEMA show. Schools have a solid eight months to complete the application—from January until August. The fall is when we focus on supporting schools as much as we can.

In the spring we offer our student scholarships and student tool grants. Individual companies also have their own named scholarships and/or tool grants. This past year we were able to provide over $125,000 in different scholarship opportunities for students.


What are your future goals?

We believe that by the end of 2013, we are hoping and planning to be a $10 million-plus organization annually for the schools. We think that’s possible by getting more people involved and educating them on who we are and who we support. There’s that level of need for support in the schools, as there’s roughly between 1,100 and 1,200 different collision schools across the country, according to our database.

It’s a $30 to $35 billion industry, so $10 million every year when it means supporting its future members; we think that’s possible.

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