Home Depot Foundation’s Caffarelli on Effective CSR: ‘Do What You Know’

Kelly Caffarelli

As president of The Home Depot Foundation and a member of its board of directors, Kelly Caffarelli knows quite a bit about home improvement. Since 2003 she’s led the Foundation’s support of construction, repair and refurbishment of affordable homes, community centers and parks across the U.S. During this time, the Foundation has granted more than $340 million to nonprofits focused on the housing and neighborhood needs of deserving families and individuals.

Caffarelli will keynote at the PR News CSR Awards luncheon on Feb. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., where she’ll discuss Home Depot's Superstorm Sandy relief efforts, its work on behalf of returning U.S. veterans and the role communications plays in weaving CSR efforts into brand perceptions. PR News recently spoke to Caffarelli about Hurricane Sandy, communications goals and more.

PR News: Describe the Foundation's work on behalf of victims of Superstorm Sandy? What kind of advance planning goes into quickly mobilizing after a natural disaster?

Kelly Caffarelli:
Superstorm Sandy is an example of the intense collaboration that happens between The Home Depot and The Home Depot Foundation to serve customers and communities at a time when they need us the most. The company’s merchandising and supply chain teams worked around the clock in our Disaster Response Command Center to ensure that our shelves were stocked with necessary pre- and post-storm supplies in affected areas. Our supply chain team moved more than 5,000 truckloads of generators, tarps, flashlights, batteries and a range of clean up tools and supplies into the impacted areas during the days leading up to and following the storm.

While our stores were busy serving the droves of customers buying supplies, The Home Depot Foundation and our Team Depot volunteers sprang into action in the hours following Sandy’s landfall to assist first responders, local officials and nonprofit organizations as they organized relief and clean-up efforts. The Foundation committed, and has since distributed, more than $1 million to national and local nonprofits, including Team Rubicon, the American Red Cross, the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, Keep Islip Clean and Operation Hope.

PR News: The Foundation has made a big commitment to help veterans. How do you measure your success in helping your nonprofit partners build and renovate affordable homes for veterans?

Caffarelli: For us, calculating success is about measuring the full range of impact. We work with our nonprofit partners to build, renovate and repair a substantial number of housing units—from shelters to apartments to homes—to provide safe and affordable housing for veterans and their families. Since we took on our new mission in 2011, we’ve invested funds that have impacted 7,100 housing units for veterans and their families.

In addition to the scale of impact, we also look at the scope of impact on lives—the stories behind the numbers. For instance, it’s not just that we repaired a disabled veteran’s home and installed a wheelchair ramp. The real success lies in the fact that his quality of life has improved because his caregiver can get him into the car more easily to go out and that he can easily access the backyard now to play with his children.

PR News:
What role does PR/communications play in The Home Depot Foundation's ability to attract donors and volunteers?

Caffarelli: Communicating both internally and externally about what we are doing and why is crucial. We want people to know that The Home Depot is a values-based business…and that one of those values is giving back to communities. And we want people to know that we don’t just talk about our values, we live them every day.

The real challenge is raising awareness around the bigger issue of the hurdles faced by many veterans. The number of service men and women returning from overseas to difficult living situations is staggering, and one that needs to be at the forefront of our minds. We are focusing on the part that we know about and have the resources to impact by working to ensure every veteran has a safe place to call home. We encourage others—corporations, nonprofits, governments and individuals—to get involved in a way that makes sense for them.

PR News: What's one piece of advice that you'll be imparting to the audience during your CSR Awards keynote?

Caffarelli: Do what you know. It’s that simple. For us, focusing on veterans’ housing issues just makes sense. We know housing (obviously), and we know veterans. In fact, more than 35,000 of our 300,000 associates are veterans, so this is an issue that we are very passionate about. We’re able to amplify our financial donations with the skills and expertise of our associates through Team Depot, our associate-led volunteer force.

Hear Kelly Caffarelli’s keynote and help us celebrate the best in CSR communications by attending the PR News CSR Awards luncheon Feb. 11 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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