Leanne Pilkington: the contribution criteria that make a lasting community impact

Most agents consider themselves part of their local community and like to show it. But more than turning sausages at the school barbecue and sponsoring the local footy team, how can agents contribute to their community in a way that establishes more authentic and, ultimately, deeper long-term connections? Laing+Simmons CEO Leanne Pilkington shares her contribution criteria.

Real estate people can be justifiably proud of the role they play in local communities.

There are some great examples of people in the industry giving back in a meaningful way.

For instance, the award-winning Belle Property Killcare and its principal Cathy Baker take an “immersive” approach. 

In Cathy’s words: “We see our role as building relationships and caring for people in our local area, rather than simply transacting properties. Building trust in meaningful ways ensures you become a trusted advisor in your local community and gain respect in the process.”

Over the years, Cathy and her team have volunteered in various capacities, as members of local clubs, supporting Rotary, the local business chamber, schools, Men’s Shed and other community organisations.

They have coordinated their own charity events which bring local businesses together to support important causes, initiated health and fitness collaborations with fitness instructors, and run events with influencers to showcase the region to a broader audience.

They have even established a directory of tradespeople, connecting locals with locals, acting as the ‘glue’ between businesses and creating a one-stop-shop for the customers they serve. 

The motivation matters. If it’s purely about brand profile, the benefits are likely to be short-lived.

But if your community contribution is motivated by something deeper, aligned with who you are as a business and as people, the benefits can be far more wide-ranging and impactful – for the causes you support and for you as well. 

Understand the identifiers

Each community has unique characteristics locals use to define where they live.

They may be environmental features, popular social hubs, a shared history or something left-field. 

They may even be the local school or sporting team. (Sometimes turning sausages at the school barbecue and sponsoring the local footy team works!).

Knowing your community’s identifiers narrows your vision when deciding how to contribute. 

Earlier this year, the Laing+Simmons office in Caddens Corner put on a carnival for locals. Rides, petting zoo, face-painting, the lot.

The team made their own showbags, inviting all other businesses in the shopping centre to include a gift of their own, be it a voucher, 2-for-1 offer, whatever.

Food came from local businesses (the first 300 sausages went quickly so an emergency second order was placed), word of mouth spread and, in the end, over 2000 people came, including a few NRL players and their families. 

The office is in a new shopping centre, which has become a local identifier for the community.

Through the initiative, the retailers in the centre are now more of a family. Cue referrals, brand profile, good will, et cetera.

While this type of investment is not always possible, the benefits in this case have been profound.

Parents still drop in to thank the team for showing their kids a great time. They’re now working on what the next event will look like.

Delve into diversity

A record number of people are migrating to Australia. Our communities are becoming more diverse, adding to the local character in different ways. 

Ask yourself, how is your community changing? What will it look like in the future? Then ask, what excites you most about this? From here, you can hone in on the ways you can best contribute.

I was speaking to an agent in western Sydney and they’ve noticed that people new to the area, with shared origins, were holding regular get-togethers over morning tea in the local park.

She says the plates of food they bring are interesting but unfamiliar, and it all smells great. So, what to do?

One option is to research the next cultural festival relevant to that community and sponsor it.

But another idea, one which might foster a deeper connection, is to host a morning tea directly, invite new locals to share their recipes via your social channels, and make it a regular or seasonal event. 

The key is to not be seen as pandering, but instead contributing in a more immersive way.

At a business level, ensuring your own team reflects the local area’s diversity instils a deeper connection as our suburbs evolve.

Talk to your team

If you’re serious about contributing to your community, it’s you and your people who will have to deliver the strategy.

If it’s not something you’re passionate about, it will end up being a one-off.

Team-led initiatives are naturally authentic because the passion already naturally exists.

Our Avalon-based office has re-imagined its workplace into a hybrid office and art space called The Studio, where work happens alongside a community program.

Local artists display their work, which is open and freely accessible for the community to view, with the sales of artworks providing funds in support of important local causes. 

Both principals are passionate art-lovers who are deeply concerned about environmental issues.

The Studio facilitates their drive to contribute in a way that physically invites the community along for the journey.

Take a qualitative view

Your contribution will probably not be measurable in business growth terms. Don’t expect it to be.

Refreshingly, most agents and businesses understand this, and proceed to give back to their communities anyway.

It’s better to consider your contribution in people growth terms.

This goes for the people you help, those in the organisations you support, as well as the people in your team, including you.

Over the years, our Quakers Hill office has coordinated a food drive for Wesley Mission, encouraged and facilitated donations of blankets and jumpers for the needy in winter, supported the local animal shelter and undertaken other locally-focused initiatives. 

The impacts on team morale, personal satisfaction and even staff mental health and wellbeing makes the effort worth it.

The office has been part of the local community for many years.

Their community contribution may not be measurable in dollar terms, but nor is their longevity a coincidence.

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.