From left: Meritage Homes’ executive chairman Steven Hilton and CEO Phillippe Lord
Brandon Sullivan From left: Meritage Homes’ executive chairman Steven Hilton and CEO Phillippe Lord

With “start with heart” at the forefront of Meritage Homes’ core values, it’s no wonder charitable giving has been a significant part of the Arizona-based builder’s makeup since its inception in 1985.

In the company’s 37-year history, executive chairman Steven Hilton and CEO Phillippe Lord have helped establish partnerships and aid countless efforts, but ultimately the leaders report it’s been a team effort with input from every single employee at the organization.

“We try to really bring everyone to the table in our company with their ideas. Let them have a voice. Let them be heard,” explains Lord. “We want to empower our teams to tell us where dollars should go, where the greatest impact will be made, and what’s in their hearts during that time.”

For their dedication to giving back to organizations at both the local and national scale, the company as a whole has been presented with the 2023 Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award, an industry honor that recognizes a builder’s lifetime commitment to public service.

Courtesy Meritage Homes

Although the bounds of its giving have been somewhat limitless, today the company’s charitable efforts start within its Meritage Cares Foundation, a qualified 501(c)(3) and 170(c)(2) foundation established in 2014 by Hilton.

“Meritage Cares is more than a catchphrase at Meritage. They have made it part of their company culture, by committing time, attention, and resources to helping support those who serve us in the military and children and families who are in need,” says Mark Porath, CEO of Hearthstone. “Being able to highlight Meritage’s good deeds is exactly the reason the Hearthstone BUILDER Humanitarian Award was founded.”

The foundation is funded directly from company earnings, reports Lord. “Every time we close a house, dollars go in there,” he says. “We are constantly feeding it. The goal is to continue to grow it as our business grows.”

To identify which philanthropies to provide both monetary and physical volunteer time, Meritage looks to its employees for input. At any point in the year, Meritage employees can submit their charitable giving request to upper management for review. Previous suggestions have ranged from a national charity that made an impression in an employee’s life to aid for a local natural disaster, such as hurricane relief in Florida, to an issue that is impacting the globe, like helping Afghan refugees during the resettlement process in the U.S.

“How am I supposed to know the best ways to give back to our communities?” asks Lord rhetorically. “I have 2,000 employees that live and breathe these communities every single day, and they’re going to be way smarter than me and tell me where those dollars should go to make the biggest impact.”

In addition to the constant flow of pitches, the builder established a giving back program called Q4 Outpour, where all of the company’s divisions vote to select one charity to donate their time and money to in the fourth quarter each year.

“So what you’re seeing is a lot of dollars going out to a lot of different places because that’s really what our employees want to do with that money,” continues Lord.

For this award, Meritage had to make a tough decision on where to donate the cash prize. Ultimately, the builder elected to split the earnings between two charities that have recently sparked interest within the organization.

Courtesy Meritage Homes

The first is No Child Goes Hungry, a nonprofit dedicated to the elimination of childhood hunger and the firm’s selected charity from its 2022 Q4 Outpour.

“No Child Goes Hungry was an idea from one of our employees last year, and it struck a chord with the entire organization,” reports Lord. “As we understood more and more what they were about, I think it really resonates with our folks and our ‘start with heart’ core value. I feel like this is probably an organization that we’re going to be continuing to give to on an annual basis.”

The second is the National Association of Women in Construction, a well-known industry organization dedicated to strengthening and amplifying the success of women in the construction field.

Lord and Meritage employees believe the future success of the industry lies in diversification.

“We’re really focused on investing in areas where we’re creating more access to our industry, especially to those folks that frankly aren’t represented in our industry, whether it’s women or other dimensions of diversity,” he says. “I think when you bring diversity to the industry and really allow different points of view to be expressed that’s when you start to generate creativity and eventually innovation that really drives your industry forward.”

Continuing the company’s commitment to being more inclusive, Meritage is also a founding partner of the Building Talent Foundation and has been involved since its inception in 2019. Last year, Meritage Cares extended its partnership with BTF, contributing $100,000 to further the foundation’s commitment to advancing education, training, and career progression.

Courtesy Meritage Homes

Beyond the above-mentioned charities, the firm has donated a significant amount of time, money, or both to Operation Homefront to build homes for military families; Arbor Day Foundation to plant trees; INROADS and United Negro College Fund to support diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; American Red Cross; Americares; International Rescue Committee; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Habitat for Humanity; and HomeAid.

“I don’t think we want to be known as a company that just wrote one big check to one foundation,” concludes Lord. “We’re trying to do more with it and impact more people’s lives versus just a few.”