Champions of Charity 2023

December 30, 2022

Auto dealers have a special culture devoted to giving back to their communities

While dealers are in the business of selling cars, they also realize the need to give back to their customers and communities.

Whether it is a single dealership or a group that owns multiple stores, there is a feeling that putting some of the earnings into the region where their business is located is paramount towards developing a relationship.

“I think in general the automotive community is generous. We’ve done well for the most part and we’re willing to give back,” said Laura Zanchin, Principal and Executive Vice President of the Zanchin Automotive Group, which owns more stores than any other dealer group in Ontario. “It’s good to give back. It’s not just about getting your (company) name out there. It’s about doing your part. That’s how we’ve always seen it.”

The Zanchin Group celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2023. It began with a Honda dealership started by founder Joe Zanchin in Woodbridge, based in the north end of the Greater Toronto Area, and now includes
38 locations and 19 brands.

In 2020, it donated $2 million to Mackenzie Vaughan Foundation in support of the hospital campaign to raise money for the construction of the new Mackenzie Vaughan Hospital in the town where Zanchin founder Joe Zanchin first started his business. It has also donated to sponsoring a hockey team and contributing to other initiatives including the Ronald McDonald House that provides a place for out-of-town families to stay while their children are undergoing medical treatment.

“The community has grown, we’ve grown, and we’re happy we’re in a position to give back,” said Laura Zanchin. “Thank God for that. That’s how we feel. When you know the people around you, it gives you joy to contribute to the people around you.”

Paul Valentine, head of the Valentine Group, which owns three stores in Calgary, two in partnership with Vaughn Wyant of the Wyant Group, has a company policy of funneling ten per cent of its annual profits back into the community. The idea began when the company moved its lone dealership selling Volvos in 2000 into a store it built that was three times bigger and in a better location. It coincided with an increased volume in sales and a greater demand in Canada for Volvos, including its first SUV.

“We thought that part of our strength is how we interact with the community,” said Valentine. “We sell luxury cars, so we really should look at putting our profits back into those less fortunate that can’t afford luxury cars. I think that’s the way (owners of) luxury products should look at the world—whether selling a luxury house, a car, or watch or clothing—and put the money back into those who can’t afford it. It’s easy to market and subsidize and sponsor people who can afford your product, but we like to do it differently. We’ve picked charities that helped the people who can’t afford our product because we think that’s the best way for a luxury dealer to give back to the community.

“We’ve been a consistent donor to five or six charities and we keep adding. There’s lots of one-offs that we think are a good fit. Some needs go away and we move on to something else, but there is a core [group of organizations] that support the homeless in Calgary that we continue to focus on.”

“It’s about helping out your community and being leaders within your community and just being a good person.”

— Carson Grant, Managing Partner/Dealer Principal of Comox Valley Dodge

The company donates to third-world causes because Valentine’s parents travelled the world inoculating people against polio through Rotary clubs and also building orphanages in South America and India. Paul’s late father, Ted, who ran the dealership before Paul took over, was a Chairman of the Federation of Automobile Dealers Association of Canada, which morphed into the Canadian Automobile Dealers Association.

“When I hire staff, our website shows what we do for the community in Calgary and the Third World, so I think staff like to work for a company that they see giving back,” said Valentine. “If I look around Calgary and Toronto and Winnipeg, local dealers sponsor everything—every hockey team, every soccer team. Everything is sponsored by local car dealers.”

“We’ve picked charities that helped the people who can’t afford our product, because we think that’s the best way for a luxury dealer to give back to the community.”   — Paul Valentine

Carson Grant, Managing Partner/Dealer Principal of Comox Valley Dodge located in the Comox Valley Regional District on the east coast of Vancouver Island, has organized numerous charity initiatives since joining the store as General Manager in May 2019.

Beginning last year, he organized an annual Night On The Street to raise money for the homeless and less privileged. He began the event to honour his brother, P.J., who was living on the streets and died of a drug overdose six years ago. There is also the Christmas On Us annual toy drive, and a program called Ride Share For The Elderly that provides shuttle service for seniors.

“I’ve always been passionate about giving back to the community,” said Grant. “I’m not part of any chamber event or anything. I just do it with myself and my team and we run with it. My wife runs breakfast programs in the elementary schools.”

He said he wants to use his platform to help out as many people as possible.

“You didn’t sell any cars from it, but at the same it’s not always about that or fixing vehicles,” said Grant. “It’s about helping out your community and being leaders within your community and just being a good person.”

Dilawri, founded in 1985 by brothers Ajay, Kap and Tony Dilawri, has 79 dealerships, 77 of which are located in Canada, the most of any dealership group in the country. Collectively it represents 38 brands. Philanthropy is a key priority for the company, and over the years the Dilawri Foundation has donated tens of millions of dollars to support youth and fostering healthy communities. In 2018, it donated $5 million to the Vancouver Public Library’s Central Branch, the largest donation to a public library in Canadian history.

“Giving back to the communities we serve has been a way to connect with the people who support us, while also providing us with a real sense of purpose,” said Ajay Dilawri. “It has been gratifying to see tangible change come out of the Dilawri Foundation’s many contributions. We are very proud to be able to say that our work has improved the health and well being of Canadians in all of the regions where we operate.”

Canada One Auto, which has 25 stores spread out in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan,, Manitoba and Ontario, provides each of its dealers with about $200,000 every year to use at their discretion to support their local communities. The company believes strongly that every-day acts, both large and small, make the communities where it is represented a better place to live. It has a panel in each dealership that every year evaluates the charities that will be supported.

“It’s a really inclusive process with the staff members,” said Vice President Daniel Priestner. “We don’t end up in any way controlling or directing where those funds get to. The decisions are made at the dealership level for very deliberate reasons.”

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