When Tony Wanderon, chief executive officer of National Auto Care, decided to launch a relief fund for F&I professionals it was personal.
The F&I professionals are the people who have taken care of us and our companies for quite some time. They support us every day when business is normal. Now in their time of need, we are here to support them.
That’s why he chose a select group of colleagues with whom to share the idea and noted that he personally contributed $10,000 to the fund, and his company matched it.
“Then I left it totally up to up to each of them to make a decision on a donation. I understood that donating is a personal decision, and while we set a target to match, it was totally up to each and I could not have been any happier with the commitment they have made. All the responses so far have been very generous” he said. “The F&I professionals are the people who have taken care of us and our companies for quite some time. They support us every day when business is normal. Now in their time of need, we are here to support them.”
Within a week of introducing the idea, Wanderon had started the “F&I Providers Relief Fund for F&I Managers.” Contributions rose quickly and now sit at more than $232,000. Beyond that, he found that F&I providers recognized the great need for support with the F&I community and rallied to help.
Word of the fund spread quickly within this group, donations were collected, and the criteria that F&I professionals needed to qualify for the support were set. In fact, a full application was already online at that point. The commitment and generosity of founding members and other supporters within the automotive community to move beyond their personal concerns was swift.
A look at the Relief Fund’s website already lists categories of donors including Founding Donors ($20,000 and over), Champion Donors ($10,000 to $19,999) and Advocate Donors ($5,000 to $9,999).
“As word spreads, donations follow,” said Wanderon. “In fact, F&I providers are anxious to show their commitment to F&I professionals during this economic downturn.” And this first group of supporters are ready to get the word out to all to hopefully get us to our goal of $750,000
“Many F&I professionals have been affected pretty dramatically by COVID-19,” said Wanderon. “They lost their jobs, they’ve been put on furlough or are just not making enough deliveries to make ends meet. That message clearly resonated with the group [of colleagues I contacted].”
Wanderon credits Kelly Price, CEO of National Automotive Experts/NWAN, a Strongsville, Ohio-based F&I products provider and administrator with much needed support during the Relief Fund’s rapid acceleration. Price was not only a founding member, but readily agreed to set up a system to bring the administrative and other tasks of the F&I Providers Relief Fund under the umbrella of Changing Lives Foundation, of which she is the Executive Director. Her experience also allowed her to answer questions, resolve concerns and cut through much of the red tape that is needed to administer a fund of this nature utilizing a charitable foundation.
“Tony and I have had a great relationship for many years,” said Price. “And he knows charitable works are in my heart. I was one part of the original group and kind of jumped in and started helping Tony.”
The Beginning of The Relief Fund
The first lines on the Relief Fund’s website tell the basic thoughts that led Wanderon to kick off the charity: “During COVID-19, the auto industry has seen unprecedented losses in sales. F&I managers around the country have been impacted and they are facing serious challenges including loss of income, illness and deep pay cuts.”
Although there are many relief programs for others within and outside the auto industry, Wanderon realized that aid is not readily available to F&I managers.
“There's just never been anything that I've seen that specifically was there to help fund F&I managers through these hard times,” he said, noting the potential donor pool is deep. “That number [of founding contributors) probably makes up less than 5% of the overall industry, maybe 20% just from a sheer volume perspective.”
The seven Relief Fund board members are representatives from an array of organizations. That was done purposefully, so that bias towards a certain automaker, dealership group or region would not come into play when relief is extended.
“We will not be providing the board with what dealership they work at or anything like that. We don't really want to know,” Price said. “That's not part of the reason for grant. We want to change lives. And Changing Lives Foundation is not charging to administer the program at all. We’re doing this so people can eat and pay their bills.”
The application for Relief Fund support is bare-bones basic. Applicants are asked for their names, addresses, telephone numbers, emails and reason for the grant. They are then asked to choose a desired grant amount: $500, $750, $1,000, $1,250, $1,500, $1,750 or $2,000. Documents in support of the application can be uploaded online. Finally, the applicant is asked for their title and years of service in the auto, powersports or RV industry.
“The problem is there are probably so many [F&I managers and professionals],” Wanderon said. “We likely won't be able to take care of each and every person that needs relief.”
But that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
Wanderon and Price want to grow the F&I provider outreach as quickly as possible. They hope word-of-mouth by the original founding members will create a buzz that continually grows.
“They've all stepped up and provided generous donations and offered to do anything that they can to help us in our mission to support those in need,” Wanderon said. “We’ve reached a broader group, if you will, that includes underwriters, roadside companies, technology platforms and other people that are directly involved in dealerships.”
Reaching As Many As Possible
Wanderon and Price said the amount of need is great among F&I professionals, and they don’t expect that to drop off anytime soon.
This means the founding members have made support of the Relief Fund a priority and have committed to regular work on the program, despite other professional and personal obligations.
“We're going to do everything we can to continue to try to raise funds. And we're hoping that a second round of requests to providers will assist us in getting the message out,” he said. “We want to get five times the amount or ten times the amount that we’ve generated so far. But we need to be strategic from organizational and provider perspectives.”
Price’s array of experience with charitable work made her the perfect partner in the Relief Fund venture, Wanderon said. Her expertise and knowledge of charities combined with the successful up-and-running charity she oversees, Changing Lives Foundation, has greatly contributed to the immediate success of the group.
The Changing Lives Foundation that Price started has been in place for years, so bringing the Relief Fund under its umbrella allowed for an expedited launch. It also adds credibility to the Relief Fund charity, said Wanderon.
“I totally agree with Tony that our businesses are driven by the passion and energy that F&I managers provide each and every day to sell our products and to provide good consumer protection. And even though they’re continuing to do their jobs, they’re struggling. This is the first time that I know of that we’ve had an opportunity to give back to them in a time of need.”
Although Price and Wanderon have both supported charities that aid auto professionals whose lives have been ravaged by floods, hurricanes and other disasters, most of those efforts were localized. The Relief Fund is the first time they’ve had a chance to make a national impact.
That underscores that they need to choose wisely on how the Relief Fund operates and limit relief to F&I professionals.
“Knowing that we wouldn't have millions and millions of dollars to distribute, we really felt like we should zone in on helping the F&I managers that help us each and every day and try to create a great cause,” said Price of the Relief Fund. “I believe that we should all give back to somebody when we have the opportunity.”
Wanderon agreed, noting that is another element that sets the Relief Fund apart from other charities.
“I think one of the things that is different about this and other charities is we personally know who we are impacting and where the money is going,” he added.
Although the Relief Fund is somewhat narrowly focused, its mission to offer immediate help to those in distress fits comfortably with the mission of the Changing Lives Foundation.
“That's what Changing Lives [Foundation] is all about, really helping those who need a helping hand today,” said Price. “We're not doing fundraisers for efforts like medical research or something like that. We're trying to help people that are impacted today.”
How to Get Help
Although the Relief Fund is under the umbrella of the Changing Lives [Foundation] the donations made in honor of the Relief Fund are earmarked specifically for grants distributed under the Relief Fund.
The founding members of the Relief Fund laid out specific criteria for how recipients would pre-qualify and receive aid.
“We created a special board of seven individuals that will handle the incoming grants and the approval of the grant,” said Wanderon. “We really don’t want to know [specifics about the recipients].”
Once applications are approved by the board, the process is something akin to a pre-qualification for a mortgage; the prospective recipient’s information will be verified, and money will be distributed.
“I can’t guarantee how long or how fast we could move, but we’ll do it as fast as we can,” said Wanderon, of dispensing monetary relief. “It will really be a combined effort of all of us working together to get donations. We’re just trying to finalize all of that currently and then see the best way to get funds out.”
Both Price and Wanderon are pleased that business groups such as theirs have joined with others, including some competitors, to offer the most relief to as many F&I professionals as possible.
“When you put the right people together, you do what you can do to get things done in a good, expeditious way,” said Wanderon. “And that's what we've done. So we have good teams. We've got great partners here.”
Wanderon and Price hope that once the pandemic crisis has passed and some level of economic security emerges, the Relief Fund will continue to support auto professionals in need.
“While this has been borne out of the current crisis, we're hoping that we'll keep this charity in play forever,” said Wanderon. “Then, when there are normal disasters, we are able to help more specifically in different areas of the country. But right now, clearly the focus is on those affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”
Those that want to learn more about the F&I Providers Relief Fund for F&I Managers can call 440-274-5114 or go to https://www.changinglivesfound.org/fandiprovidersrelieffund.