Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What we owe our partners and other stakeholders

I’m writing from my home away from home - National Airport - where I’m waiting out a 90 minute delay on a flight south. The concourse is filled with the usual assortment of software salesmen, lobbyists, lacrosse teams, U.S. Army Rangers, and electricity scavengers looking for a place to recharge iPads. We have little in common but the vague scent of Aunt Annie’s pretzels. Next to me is a man in a green t-shirt that says “Margaritaville on the back, and on the front “There’s Booze in the Blender” It’s a dark and rainy night and the plane looks like a small sparrow next to the 737s heading to New York and Boston. I am missing Rosemary and Nate and second-guessing my decision to try to inspire a small college’s undergraduates with the Share Our Strength story.

Distracting myself by plowing through e-mail, I just opened one that includes the audio message that John Miller, CEO of Denny’s, sent to his team about the Great American Dine Out (They have more than 700 restaurants participating.)

It’s not unusual for our corporate partners to issue communications to motivate their staff and get buy-in. But instead of reading it, I was able to listen to John’s voice as he talked – and as he described the impact Share Our Strength is having, what it means both nationally and at the community level. That must explain why this one hit me more personally.

What struck me is that not only are our partners committed and generous, but that they go to extraordinary lengths – taking risks actually – to vouch for us, to put their own reputation on the line – to link the brand they’ve worked day and night to build to our brand and especially to our brand promise that we will end childhood hunger.

From Whole Food, William-Sonoma and WalMart to Jimmy Dean, Hickory Farm, Denny’s – and everyone in between – men and women with their own businesses and careers to worry about are sticking their necks out further than they have to on our behalf. They are giving testimony in the most public way, that Share Our Strength is where you want to place your bet. Their employees, whose engagement is so critical to Dine Out and our other partnership promotions, know us mostly through what their management tells them. And what they are hearing is that we make a difference, and that while we still have a long way to go, we are going to end childhood hunger.

Humbling, ain’t it? Scary too. There are more people counting on us than we could ever count, more people investing their hopes in us than we could ever have hoped for. It is not only America’s hungry children (as if that weren’t enough) to whom we owe our best, but many others to whom we’ve given our promise as well. Makes it hard to complain about small planes to small towns on dark and rainy nights. Makes it seem more like an honor.

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