Giving Back in the Spa Industry
by Jan Winter

In an industry hallmarked by conscientious, personalized care, it is not surprising that charitable actions are almost automatic for spas and their resource partners. Areas of support include the environment, disease research, survivor care and disaster relief. When the community needs help, the spa family steps up.

Sudden, drastic disasters often elicit extraordinary response from the already good-at-heart. When it gets personal, like home and neighborhood, the giving can come from a very special place.

For Jenefer Palmer, founder of the seaweed-based OSEA Malibu Skincare line, the issue became intensely personal when her Malibu home and all of its contents were lost to a forest fire.

“I never considered myself overly attached to physical things, but when we lost our family home, I was devastated,” Palmer shared. “It was my daughter, Melissa, who sparked the idea to give back to our community. As I thought about it, for the first time I started to feel a sense of calm flow through me. It was a gift to be able to step outside of myself.”

They decided to donate profits for three key shopping days last November to Woolsey fire victims.

“Taking action was healing for me on so many levels,” Palmer said.

When your neighbors need you, you don’t hesitate, agreed Gabrielle Testa, resort general manager at the Watercolor Inn Spa, part of the St. Joe Club & Resorts family, which to date has donated more than a million dollars and thousands of meals toward northwest Florida’s recovery from last year’s Hurricane Michael. Watercolor Inn Spa, located in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, was itself affected by Hurricane Michael, and Testa said the company flew into action immediately after the storm.

“We had staff in the affected areas, we had communities in the affected areas, there was a need for quick action,” said Testa.

Initially it activated an effort that served thousands of meals to survivors, but that was just the beginning. The company’s corporation foundation pledged $1 million to relief efforts the day after the storm. Working with community leaders, they identified the greatest and most immediate needs. To date, grants ranging from $10,000 to$100,000 have been awarded to a variety of groups, including those dedicated to helping deputies who lost their homes to the storm and those that help children, among many others.

While major disasters call for special response, one of the smartest, easiest ways to give back is to incorporate
charitable service within your regular work.

Spa Director Allison Lomax, of Spa Anjali at the Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa (nestled among the slopes of Colorado’s Vail Valley) said they partner with a local cancer treatment center to provide massage, facial and nail service for patients in active treatment. Lomax said the recipients love the pampering. The company also provides eight hours of paid time off annually for employees to do volunteer work.

Spa Manager Natasha Burns, of The Spa at 21c Cincinnati, said that although her business does not make direct financial donations, they instead do just about anything else possible to support charitable efforts, including donating hotel stays, restaurant meals and spa services.

According to Burns, they contribute to coat drives, hold Halloween parties to raise funds, and partner with “countless” community members for public events such as art exhibits that are often charitable fundraisers—the site combines a contemporary art museum, boutique hotel, restaurant and bar with a full-service spa. The Spa at 21c will also run a promotion in which 10 percent of proceeds go toward women’s employment efforts, said Burns.

Spa manager Trudy Smith said The Spa at Kilaga Springs created a unique and effective way to grow both corporate and community goals together. The Spa is part of the Sun City Lincoln Hills Community Association, a retirement community with 11,000+ neighbors all 55 and older.

The company has incentivized goals for staying on budget, reducing injuries, team building, and community involvement. Charitable efforts have included a coat drive, the donation of older sheets and towels to local pet charities, and of robes and makeup to a women’s shelter.

Some departments combine fundraising with direct action. One group, Smith said, ran a drive for gift cards for nearby wildfire victims—the spa is only 60 miles from the epicenter of the destructive Camp Fire—and then hand-delivered pet food for affected animals. The spa sets aside time for giving on company time, but employees often go above and beyond by donating and volunteering on their own time, as well.

No matter how it is expressed, charitable giving should relate to your brand, and always support brand values. For President Vivian Valenty, whose company VB cosmetics makes Dazzle Dry nail products, the sense of connection is surprising, but perfect.

“We have an ongoing program with WeForest planting trees in the Kashi Hills of India,” she said. The program also improves the lives of the people in the region. But why did Dazzle Dry choose to plant trees in India, rather than another location? “as a certified Women-Owned Enterprise, our brand is all about helping women,” said Valenty, adding “the Khasi are one of the world’s few matrilineal societies so women are well represented in the project.” Therefore, Dazzle Dry’s charitable contributions match up perfectly with its own values, as well as its brand image.

“Dazzle Dry is an eco-friendly, vegan and cruelty-free brand. Contributions and partnerships like this allow us to meaningfully support our values, and show our customers that we walk the talk,” Valenty said.

Serendipity put Valenty’s idea next to an actionable project. She had already wanted to plant trees, but was unsure of where to start: “Except for planting trees in my home backyard, I didn’t know how I could help in a global effort until I attended the Tenth Congress of the Green Spa Network in march of 2018. One presentation about the impact of planting trees to reverse global warming confirmed my thoughts that we need to plant more trees to slow down, or even reverse, the current global warming trend and restore the environment to a healthy condition. afterward, I asked the speaker, Tom Eddington, how I could help plant trees, and he told me to partner with WeForest.

“Dazzle Dry’s program to plant one tree per retail order placed online started with the planting of 1,000 trees in the Kashi hills of india on Earth Day, April 22, 2018.” Valenty says that Dazzle Dry’s goal was to to plant 10,000 trees by Earth Day 2019, one year later; with just a few weeks until Earth Day, they have already exceeded that goal, says Valenty.

Spa Director Paul Nunez of J.W. Marriott Marco Island says that his company participates in many charitable giving efforts, with the main being a walk to raise funds to fight cancer. “We are also pushing to make oncology massage part of the menu in all Marriott Spas,” he said, adding that the program is “vital because we are all affected.” Nunez personally lost his mother to cancer.

A few rare companies make charitable giving part of their business plan from the very start. Alaska Glacial Mud Co. is a certified B Corp, and founder Lauren Padawer explained that this means they donate 10 percent of profits or 2 percent of revenue (whichever is greater) to an identified charitable organization of the company’s choice. In this case, the donation goes to educate, restore, protect and defend wild salmon habitat, particularly in Alaska’s Copper River, which is one of the largest rivers in the united States.

Padawer said she first experienced the “buttery and therapeutic qualities” of glacial mud after rafting the Copper River. She then decided on the spot to start a business that would be philanthropic to “protect the watershed, and thus the regional culture and environment.” From wild salmon and the indigenous culture, to the Alaskan lifestyle and the highly productive wildlife ecosystem, “we all depend on the river for food and clean water,” Padawer added.

Very few of the companies contacted for this story said they use their charitable work to market their companies. A few use photos on social media, but mostly to recognize employee participation and celebrate their staff, rather than the spa itself.

“Usually, I prefer to keep our donations anonymous. My mother always taught me that when you give to others not to announce it with trumpets,” said Palmer.

So why do it? Why give away time and money?

Charitable efforts are good for morale, notes Smith, who makes a point of noting the achievements in company communication. “The staff love it,” she said. “Spas are in the business of taking care of people... it creates a culture of caring and we are a better team because of it.”

“I want our people to be the change they wish to see in the world, their giving hearts and ability to rally as a team provide a base for our culture,” said Testa of Watercolor Inn Spa.

“Spa communities are such a tight-knit, caring, compassionate, loving group that it is in our very core nature to want to help others. It’s our calling to nurture and help when needed and not a ploy for attention,” said Spa Anjali’s Lomax.

Padawer said it’s bigger than any single business. “I don’t think giving back should be specific to any industry. I think if all businesses gave back in a way that offset or protected the resources where their products or services come from, the world would be a better place."

Jan Winter is a freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience writing on a variety of business topics. She is based in LaGrange, Kentucky.