Last spring, Alure Home Improvement, on Long Island, mobilized teams of installers to help construct a recreation facility at Clearpool Education Center in Putnam County, N.Y. Filmed by ABC-TV and broadcast on the network's Extreme Make-over: Home Edition in May, the project was the sixth that Alure has undertaken for Extreme Makeover in as many years. Company co-owner and president Sal Ferro served as on-site project manager, as he has in each of Alure Home Improvement's televised projects.

Other Extreme Makeover episodes featuring the company include the renovation of a New York City apartment on behalf of two firefighters (in 12 hours), the reconstruction of a house from shell for a single mother and her children (five days), and another whole-house remodel for Guyanese immigrants whose still-inhabited home was a burnt-out crater (one week).

Alure Home Improvement, founded 60 years ago, had for many years been a company fairly well-known to Long Island consumers. But Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and the attendant publicity made the company the most well-known home improvement operator in the NYC metro area. “It has definitely increased our image,” says director of marketing Seth Selesnow, “and opened the door to other opportunities.”

COMMUNITY COMMITMENT Alure Home Improvement's participation in the television program cost the company plenty of money — in some cases, Alure furnished both the labor and materials for the televised project, mobilizing 50% to 80% of its employees and putting every other job on hold. But in donating its time and money to a cause, the company was only doing on a large scale what many home improvement companies do all the time — it was responding positively to a request from those in need.

Most companies donate to nonprofits, schools, charities, and other causes. Why? Simple decency is probably the most compelling reason. Take Fick Bros. Roofing Co., in Baltimore, for example. Several times the company has repaired the roof of the church down the street at no charge, and it reroofed it at cost. If its employees are involved in fundraising campaigns on behalf of nonprofits, Fick Bros. writes a check “because it's important to the employee, something they've committed themselves to,” explains sales manager Jeffrey Fick. “Part of our company mission statement is that we want to be an asset to the community.”

But while many companies give, not all are comfortable with the idea of publicizing it. Neither on its Web site nor in its advertising and promotion does Fick Bros. allude to any of the many charitable causes to which it contributes. And that, according to Kristian Darigan, vice president of cause marketing for Cone Inc., a Boston consulting firm, would make it more the rule than the exception. “The largest portion of corporate giving is altruistic philanthropy,” she points out. That is, it's wholly separate from marketing the company's products and services.

On the other hand, some home improvement companies are delighted to let the community, and potential customers, know about the good they do. S&K Roofing, Siding and Windows, in Maryland, publicizes its annual food drive with direct mail pieces as well as on its Web site (see “Food Drive,” page 44). Legacy Roofing, in Seattle, furnishes prospects with, among other things, a list of the causes it contributes to. Alure Home Improvement has been involved for years with many nonprofits. That involvement, Ferro says, “raises the profile of Alure.” In return, he says, “we have raised the profile of those charities.”

GOOD GUYS, GOOD BUSINESS Alure Home Improvement, Legacy Roofing, S&K Roofing, Siding and Windows, and other companies are practicing what marketing professionals call “cause marketing.” It's defined as an alliance between a for-profit and a nonprofit to the mutual benefit of both. In cause marketing, also known as community marketing, you use philanthropy to showcase your company's values and sense of social responsibility. David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum, in Rye, N.Y., defines it more simply: “getting involved in good things in your community in a way that people hear about.”

More than a billion dollars a year is now spent on cause marketing campaigns. But what distinguishes such activities from ordinary philanthropy is the way that money is spent. Cause marketing, Darigan says, is about “managing your contributions and resources to have a social and business impact.” In other words, instead of just writing a check to whatever cause seems worthy, contributions are distributed in a way that's strategic, and that benefits your company and its image.

That's particularly important in the home improvement industry, which often struggles with negative consumer perceptions. Basking in the goodwill generated by charitable giving, or teaming up with a well-known nonprofit in a public way, can only be helpful. Sometimes, very helpful.