A Capitol Auto Group manager kisses a piglet as part of the dealership's annual fundraising drive for United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley (Courtesy of Capitol Auto Group)

Salem’s Capitol Auto Group has figured out one secret to raising money for charity: make your managers kiss a pig.

The auto dealership wrapped up its month-long drive for United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley with a $200,000 donation: a record for the company, and one of the largest employee-funded donations the charity has ever received.

“It’s a phenomenal, phenomenal contribution,” said Ron Hays, United Way executive director. Nearly all the money, $180,000, came from employee contributions and payroll deductions, not the company itself.

“Capitol is very generous, but this is a program that’s strictly their employees doing it and that’s a pretty amazing thing,” he said.

Brian Schindler, the dealership’s director of business development, said the company works hard to promote a culture of giving among its 320 employees. That includes special clubs for workers who give more than $600 and more than $1,000 over the course of the year, with a barbecue, VIP parking and the freedom to wear jeans to work on select days.

Employees could also buy tickets forcing managers to kiss a baby pig brought in for the day.

Schindler said the company has made community service and philanthropy part of its culture and makes that clear to new employees when they start. Owners Scott and Carrie Casebeer have made a point to give money to local causes in the time they’ve run the business, he said, and offer employees a paid day to volunteer in the community.

“One way or another, financially or through time … if you work at Capitol we’re going to give back to the community that gives to us,” Schindler said.

Workers at Capitol Auto Group play cornhole as part of the dealership's annual fundraising drive for United Way of the Mid-Willamette Valley (Courtesy of Capitol Auto Group)

For United Way, it’s a sign of the effectiveness of working directly to solve community problems instead of only granting money to other organizations.

Last year, United Way took in just over $2 million, with more than half coming from workplace campaigns, according to the organization’s 2018 report.

The nonprofit raised funds last year to open Taylor’s House, a new shelter for homeless teens in Salem, and will finish a mobile shower trailer in the coming months. Both projects were driven by unmet needs in the region, said Elizabeth Schrader, the organization’s director of resource development.

“It’s not something that a lot of United Ways have done regionally,” she said.

Now, Hays is working with staff to figure out how the nonprofit could provide affordable housing for seniors at market rates.

Schrader said the goal is to talk to people in the three counties they serve and find places where they can partner with other groups or develop novel solutions to problems.

“We can act and we can say, ‘Do you need beds, do you need a drive for this, do you need fundraising?’” she said.

Schindler said each year, the dealership invites United Way leaders in to talk about the projects they’re working on. Knowing the money helps local schools and homeless people in the Salem area makes people want to give, he said.

Last year, the dealership raised $175,000 from employees. This year, they set a goal of $180,000.

“People just understand that we’re all kind of blessed to be able to go home and know we’ve got a place to go to,” he said.

Reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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