By Lynelle Lynch, Owner and President, Bellus Academy
In an environment hyper-focused on compliance, for-profit schools can lose sight of non-regulatory initiatives that contribute to a school’s success. As management focuses on calculating, gathering and reporting myriad data points for submission to regulatory authorities, it can be easy for schools to reduce their investment in community relations initiatives. But while some schools may deem community relations as a tactic not critical to the enterprise’s success, others schools are tapping into the power of community service to build positive relationships with students, employees and critical influencers such as legislators. At Bellus Academy, community service has become an integral part of our culture and a factor that is indeed mission-critical to our continued success.
While the dollars and cents of community service can be challenging to measure, giving back to others assuredly matters.
A 2013 study by Cone Communications and Echo Research, found that 91 percent of respondents believe companies must go beyond the minimum standards required by law to operate responsibly.1
From an employee recruitment perspective, the 2014 Millennium Impact Project found that among millennials who heard about a company’s cause work in an interview, 55 percent said the company’s work helped persuade them to take the job.2
What is community service?
Community service and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are often used interchangeably, so it’s worth noting the differences. Often defined as an indicator of a company’s efforts to take responsibility for environmental and social well-being, CSR typically refers to an organization’s efforts that go beyond the requirements imposed by regulatory bodies. Common examples of CSR initiatives include cause marketing initiatives that benefit a specific cause such as education, or literacy. For example, skincare pioneer Murad created a limited skincare retail set to benefit the Beauty Changes Lives Foundation, an organization that funds scholarships for cosmetology, esthetic, nail and barbering students.
As its name implies, “community service” is all about serving those in the community and involves performing a non-paying service for the benefit of the public. In the for-profit education sector, community service efforts may range from providing free computer workshops or haircuts to individuals seeking to re-enter the workforce, to serving as a site for an immigration swearing in ceremony or offering conference space to an organization focused on building self-esteem in young women. A distinguishing feature of community service initiatives compared to CSR is that there is usually a face-to-face encounter between an organization’s people and the public.
At Bellus Academy, we use the term “community service” to describe how our students, educators and staff – collectively our culture – engage to support and serve our local communities. In March 2017, Bellus Academy was honored with the California Association of Private Post-Secondary Schools (CAPPS) “Gold” award for Excellence in Community Service. In the spirit of “giving back,” Bellus has developed some “community relations best practices” that schools may consider as they craft their own community service initiatives.
Best practice #1: Make community service part of the culture
While “culture” is often misunderstood as a feeling in the office, the term actually refers to the collective behaviors of a company’s people as they interact with each other and the world around them. Culture is what sets a company apart and distinguishes it from its peers (Disney’s culture even more than its attractions differentiates it from other theme parks.) Culture speaks to how we do things and what makes us unique among other peers operating in the same space. “Humanitarianism – a heartfelt devotion to changing lives – is established as a core value at Bellus Academy and directs our efforts to serve in the community. In 2017,
Bellus Academy’s corporate team decided to focus the Academy’s efforts in three areas – our brand, our team and our community. In addition to focusing corporate efforts on giving back to the community, Bellus Academy seeks opportunities for students and staff to actively participate in the causes dear to their hearts. While Bellus seeks to serve the community at large, the team also honors the old adage that “charity begins at home.” Bellus staff and students have joined forces to sponsor fundraisers for team members experiencing hardship. For example, students and staff organized a fundraiser for a student battling cancer and another student whose home was destroyed by a fire.
Best practice #2: Engage your legislators
The “for-profit” education sector has a powerful story to tell, and no one needs to hear the story more than the men and women creating legislation governing our sector. These leaders need to hear about the diverse businesses that hire our graduates, the small businesses our graduates start, and how for-profit schools are giving back to the community.
Most legislators have a public information official who serves as a communications liaison, and this information is typically available on the website under the “contact” or “press” tabs. Find out who these individuals are in your Congressional district and send them news releases regarding your school’s community service projects. Ask your state and local leaders to participate in your day of service. And don’t miss the opportunity to connect legislators with your school’s students, by inviting Congressional representatives to speak on campus.
In 2017, Bellus Academy invited Congressman Scott Peters to address graduates during commencement exercises. Addressing Bellus graduates, the Democrat Congressman who has served as a member of the Congressional Caucus on Innovation and Entrepreneurship and introduced a resolution for a National Entrepreneur’s Day, noted that many Bellus Academy graduates will be employed by small businesses while other graduates may become small-business owners in the future. He remarked on both the economic and quality of life benefits that small businesses contribute to today’s economy.
Schools can build relationships with their Congressional leaders by serving at civic events, and attending fundraisers and get-out-the-vote events. Legislators also schedule times to meet with their district’s constituents to understand the issues of the citizens they represent. Dates for district events are typically posted on Representative’s websites. Finally, don’t hesitate to cross the aisle. It is important to create a dialog with legislators regardless of the political party they represent.
Best practice #3: Designate a driver for the community service bus
With so much going on in schools today, it’s important to have a designated individual who can coordinate community relations activities. At Bellus, our community relations leader is the liaison between the community and our campus. She also maintains a calendar, so we know at a glance what dates students and staff are available to serve. The community relations planner also allows us to monitor our progress and ensure we’re living out our humanitarian values. In 2016, Bellus Academy participated in 27 community relations events, leading or supporting community service projects every month of the year.
Best practice #4: Consider “unexpected” partners
What could hair color, exfoliation, and manicures have in common with two by fours, floor joists and dry wall? A spirit of helping others in need is one similarity shared by both cosmetologists and contractors. Bellus Academy has partnered with local Habitat for Humanity chapters to provide stress relieving seated massages to volunteers building new homes for families in need. Research has found that a “desire to help others” is the reason many individuals enter the beauty and wellness industry. Another creative partnership occurred last summer when Bellus Academy teamed up with Boys to Men for the “100 Waves Challenge.” Massage educators and staff provided chair massages, table massages and stretching to surfers raising money to help disadvantaged and at-risk young males in the community. On that day, our community service literally was “a day at the beach!”
Best practice #5: Partner with alumni
Some of a school’s biggest champions are its graduates. How are your school’s alumni making a difference in the community? Bellus Academy graduate Meghan Foley owned a successful salon for 12 years before deciding she wanted to take her occasional philanthropic efforts even further, and formed Shear Love, a charity that helps individuals experiencing homelessness with the gift of a hot meal and some basic grooming services. Speaking with the San Diego Union Tribune, Meghan stated, “We all have a season in life when we’re called to do something and I think it’s my time to be a leader and help create this for other people.” Recalling the humanitarian values of the Bellus culture, Meghan revisited Bellus in 2016, and the Poway campus served as the site for Shear Love to provide free haircuts to individuals experiencing a season of hardship.
Best practice #6: Support complementary organizations
What community partners serve a mission that can benefit from the services your school provides? How can your school help a worthy group save money on services? Recognizing that young women love the opportunity to get glammed up, Bellus Academy partners with events like the F.A.N.C.Y. Teen Girls Expo, a nonprofit that offers education and resources to boost girls’ self-esteem and guidance toward life purpose. While participating girls enjoy a day of confidence-building workshops, they are also treated to
hairstyling, nail polish and age-appropriate makeup application. Similarly, Bellus Academy donates backstage makeup and hair services to models walking in various fundraiser fashion shows. Honoring a commitment to be an affirming and inclusive organization, Bellus Academy joined forces with a local LGBTQ chapter to provide transgender individuals with tips for applying makeup and styling hair.
Best practice #7: Tap into star power
Is there a celebrity connected to your school’s focus of study who can lend his or her star power to your fundraising event? In 2015, Bellus Academy invited celebrity hairstylist Ted Gibson to Bellus for a fundraiser benefitting the Thirst Project, a “Beauty Gives Back” initiative that develops wells for people around the globe. Gibson’s appearance was part of Bellus Academy’s investment in San Diego Fashion Week, and his celebrity presence helped secure media coverage and ticket sales.
Best practice #8: Use social media for a “humble brag”
Use social media channels to share how your school is making a difference in the community. Are your educators exhausted from a 24-hour charity marathon? Snap a photo of them celebrating after the event and share it on social channels. Did your school provide in excess of 500 hours of training services? Let your social channels’ followers know how wired and inspired you are!
Best practice #9: Connect with media partners … and the military
Who are the people and news outlets in your community covering local and community news? Make sure you keep traditional media outlets as well as community blogs and online news sites advised of fundraisers and charitable events taking place on campus. Contact the assignment director at your local network affiliate’s station and let them know about upcoming events you’re planning. And because many media outlets partner with local organizations to serve the common good, contact your local media’s “community relations” contact to inquire about supporting/promoting their initiatives.
Media are particularly interested in stories about the men and women protecting our nation. As Bellus campuses in California and Kansas are located in close proximity to military bases, the school hosts events that give back to enlisted and retired military members. For example, Bellus designates specific weeks to treat active and retired military members to spa services ranging from haircuts to pumpkin peels, pomegranate facials, manicures and pedicures. Students and staff also take their skills to these military men and women. At the Marine Birthday Ball, Bellus Academy students provided hairstyling, makeup, nail polish changes and chair massages to women attending the Marine Birthday Ball and at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar Holiday Festival, Bellus Academy hosted a “braid bar,” providing children with Elsa-like braids inspired by the movie Frozen.
Best practice #10: Work with your suppliers
At a time when relationships matter even more, the companies your school purchases goods and services from are uniquely positioned to support your efforts. When Bellus Academy hosted its Cancer Survivors Beauty and Support Day in June 2017, the team reached out to professional beauty brands COTY and Murad to provide free products to cancer survivors. Local media caught news and invited Bellus Academy on a morning program to discuss the initiative, including the brands’ generosity.
Best practice #11: Schedule a campus-wide retreat
Effective community relations programs draw on the perspectives of staff members from diverse areas throughout an organization. At Bellus Academy, staff members representing multiple functions (management, educators, and staff) and campuses, participate in an annual off-site, facilitated strategic planning session. And by off-site, we don’t mean a hotel conference room or meeting space. Preparing graduates to work in a creative industry, we emphasize creativity in all aspects of a career – including retreat locations. Bellus retreats have taken place around campfires and on the beach. During the retreats, facilitated exercises encourage trust and teamwork and pave the way for team members’ creative processes to flow. During the 2017 strategic planning session, team members determined that our 2017 community service would focus on four key areas: cancer awareness, Beauty Changes Lives, animal adoption and CUT IT OUT, a program that educates salon professionals about the signs of domestic violence and how to safely refer individuals to support resources. Through a collaborative process in a supportive environment, Bellus team members created “buy-in” with regards to the program.
Best practice #12: Remember the words of a legend in history
Accurately measuring the return on investment of community service initiatives can be challenging. Who knows how the compassion of a haircut provided to a homeless veteran or a little pampering for a cancer survivor will change an individual’s afternoon or life? Perhaps the ultimate indicator that community service is paying off comes when the commitment to serve moves from “head to heart.” When Bellus Academy grad Meghan Foley stopped by Bellus Academy last year and asked if the Poway campus would serve as the site for her Shear Love fundraiser, we knew that our humanitarian value was indeed influencing how our alums go out and shape the world. Her spirit reflects the wisdom shared by one of the 20th century’s great leaders, Winston Churchill who stated, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
- Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, May 16, 2013, http://www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2013-cone-communications-echo-global-csr-study
- 2014 Millennium Impact Report, Inspiring the Next Generation Workforce, http://www.themillennialimpact.com/sites/default/files/reports/MIR_2014.pdf
LYNELLE LYNCH is president and owner of Bellus Academy. An accomplished visionary and entrepreneur, in 2005 Lynelle accepted the challenge of reimagining beauty and wellness education, taking the leadership reins at Bellus Academy.
Recognizing that professional development is a lifelong adventure, Lynelle has led the development of advanced education programs at Bellus Academy. Bellus educators as well as students continually strive to push their creative boundaries and Bellus Academy educators routinely place in the world’s most prestigious industry competitions. Yet Lynelle also recognizes the importance of “core business skills” that contribute to graduates’ success. Bellus Academy students learn not just the art and science of cosmetology and related programs, but also vital business skills including personal finance and marketing.
As a leader, Lynelle models a philosophy that is simultaneously competitive and humanitarian. In 2015, she traveled to Paris to accept the international Intercoiffure Mondial Award, recognizing Bellus Academy as the top academy in North America. Bellus Academy continues to be awarded honors, accepting the California Association of Private Post-Secondary Schools (CAPPS) “Gold” Award for Excellence in Community Service in March 2017. In June 2017, Lynelle accepted the Business Leader of the Year award from the North San Diego Business Chamber.
Among Lynelle’s diverse accomplishments, she is particularly proud of the Beauty Changes Lives Foundation which she founded in 2009. Since becoming a 501c3, the Foundation has raised millions of dollars and awarded thousands of scholarships for individuals pursuing careers in hairstyling, aesthetics, massage therapy, professional nails, makeup and barbering. She has also engaged some of the world’s most esteemed beauty brands in supporting NextGen talent.
Throughout Lynelle’s career, she has been active in civic and charitable causes. She currently serves on five boards, including the Career Education Colleges and Universities (CECU) board of directors.
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