Ann Christenson, who is Aimbridge Hospitality’s EVP chief human resources officer, says the company created its nonprofit foundation Aimbridge Aid as a 501(c)(3) charitable fund to provide financial aid for essential needs during times of crisis, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. Christenson described for LODGING how the tradition of supporting associates and their community at Aimbridge Hospitality, which merged with Interstate Hotels & Resorts in 2019, inspired the creation of this charitable organization in record time to aid associates of the company or regionally recognized charities during the current COVID-19 pandemic and future crises.
What was the genesis of Aimbridge Aid?
Both Aimbridge and Interstate were very charitable in their beliefs as organizations. Both had legacy programs to help support associates during floods, hurricanes, fires, etc., but didn’t have foundation-certified 501T3s. Yet, when the pandemic hit in March, we recognized it as a great opportunity to take those charitable efforts to another level by setting up a 501T3 organization that would allow us to really further our ability to impact our associates. It also enables us to reach out to owners and vendors and really put a stake in the ground showing how we want to invest and give back to our associates and the communities in which we have hotels.
What did starting this kind of foundation during the pandemic involve?
Many people told us our goal of getting a foundation up and running in six weeks was not realistic, but I was determined to prove them wrong. We took that challenge on, first getting our letter and certificate to declare ourselves as a 501(c)(3) foundation, then immediately began raising funds. I had an amazing team within our organization at Aimbridge, as well as great partners, who helped us really do everything in short order, including all the paperwork to incorporate our organization and set up our bylaws. We had to make sure we had everything required to submit for formal designation as a 501T3, knowing we needed actual certification and registration to be able to market and solicit donations that would be eligible for a charitable contribution deduction. The foundation was officially established on April 20, 2020.
In what way are associates helping fund Aimbridge Aid to help other associates?
As soon as the fund was set up, we immediately began soliciting donations from our partners and our senior executives. We are incredibly proud of the fact that every single person on our senior team gave a significant donation to give back to our associates. In fact, even today, our average donation is over $2,500. To date, we’ve raised nearly $1 million and given out nearly $400,000 in grants to current and former associates of Aimbridge. As we see it, this is an important part of holding ourselves accountable as an organization, but it also builds our employment brand to show that we truly invest in our people.
What impact have these grants to employees had on morale?
It’s been amazing to see what this has done for the organization. General managers, who had always tried to help their team members before, now have a vehicle they didn’t have before for helping their associates deal with the impacts of perhaps a furlough, being laid off, or losing their homes. It really is exciting to watch and see how engaged and excited everybody was—from our board to our hourly associates and the corporate office—about giving back to our associates and how we’re trying to make a difference in the world.
Did anything surprise you about the impact of Aimbridge Aid?
One thing I’d say is that we’ve learned a lot more about our organizational leaders. There were always heroic stories about helping associates dealing with natural disasters such as fires and hurricanes through fundraising, but we saw outreach beyond financial efforts on a daily basis during the pandemic. There seemed to be widespread recognition that we are an organization that is only successful because of our people.
It also has us thinking about other vehicles we can create via the Foundation to continue and support our development goals around our people, perhaps to further their education, and also to support the communities where we have hotels.