Philanthropy is alive and well in Nevada’s business community, with corporate giving high on the list of priorities for many of the most successful companies in the Silver State. Yet Nevada typically ranks low on lists of states in terms of corporate and individual giving, leaving the impression that in Nevada, we just don’t care.
That’s just not true. “Nevada supposedly ranks at the bottom of charitable giving, not just corporate, but overall in the state. I don’t buy it,” said Kirk V. Clausen, regional president, Wells Fargo Bank of Nevada. “I’m around incredible people who volunteer time and money and in-kind donations all the time. I think if anything gets in our way of being higher on those lists, it’s the incredible growth we have and the need to keep up that is working against us. I’m an eternal optimist, but I think, if somebody could do the analysis and look back in particular at the corporate community and include individuals, we could demonstrate that giving is growing. Maybe not as fast as growth in our community, but it’s growing.”
Other professionals working with corporate giving agree: Nevada’s rapid population growth works against us when it comes to perception of corporate and individual giving in our state.
“In my opinion, our challenge is two-fold,” said Rob McCoy, director of public affairs, Embarq Corporation. “In many cases, people who move to Nevada to retire have already given their time and their dollars to organizations in the cities and towns they’ve relocated from. There is also a segment of the population that relocates for one reason only: to make money and leave our community again. I really believe we’re maturing as a community and as a result, giving and volunteerism are on the rise. But our needs are also growing, and I don’t think contributions are rising quite as quickly as the needs are rising. The tremendous growth in the Las Vegas Valley in the last 20 years has put a tremendous strain on all resources.”
But just because our numbers are low on national lists doesn’t mean corporate giving isn’t flourishing. Across the country, Americans gave $295 billion in 2006, 76 percent donated by individuals compared to 4.3 percent from corporate giving.
Tracking efforts locally is more difficult. Most companies choose one of two ways to give – by setting up a corporate foundation to handle charitable donations, or by making it part of the marketing and PR costs, and including it in the budget.
For example, Wells Fargo budgets a percentage of its revenue annually to give back to the community. MGM MIRAGE allows employees to have charitable donations taken by payroll deduction. Focus Property Group allows employees hours during the week to work on philanthropic projects. Although statewide tracking of these methods isn’t necessarily any easier, they undoubtedly produce results.
Speaking of PR …
Amazingly enough, most businesses choose not to capitalize directly on their philanthropical good deeds. It seems obvious that corporate philanthropy is good for business – there are multiple public relations angles and media coverage readily available before, during and after charitable events. The day of fundraising events, media coverage is bound to catch sight of happy corporate employees wearing brightly colored logo t-shirts and volunteering their time. Nevertheless, most businesses aren’t motivated by the publicity angle.
“We just don’t position ourselves for notoriety. We advertise for that,” said Clausen. “My belief is we invest in our community so that we have a stronger community. That’s good for individuals and organizations and a stronger community yields positive results for the bank in terms of an increased number of people who elect to use its banking services.” In other words, corporate giving creates basic cause-and-effect results: do good for the community and the community does good in return.
Other businesses let the non-profit take the lead in media coverage of fundraising events. “They’re better at showcasing their opportunities,” said McCoy. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t work in concert with their PR people – we do – but we like them to take the lead so they get the most out of the opportunity and tell the story best.”
The benefits most businesses get from giving are internal, rather than external or PR-driven: Employee longevity, loyalty and satisfaction all rise when employees are made part of the charitable giving program.
“Employees become more connected to each other,” said Stacey Wedding, president, Southern Nevada chapter Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), principal, Professionals in Philanthropy. “A prime example is Focus Property Group. Employees from all their different departments who had never met [before the charitable giving campaign was set in place] now interact on a regular basis because of the philanthropical programs that are set-up. There’s a community built within a corporation when employees are involved. And I think there’s tremendous employee loyalty to an organization when they’re involved in its charitable giving programs.”
Just how do these enterprising, community-spirited businesses involve their employees? In most cases, it seems contagious. Once the program is put in place, it’s made highly visible within the company and people just get onboard. It’s no secret that doing good feels good, and when companies make it easy for employees to give, employees are quick to respond with volunteerism and in-kind donations.
At Wells Fargo, individual team members accrue points for their community service, with the top scorers being recognized at a huge, annual party. In fact, employees are so enthusiastic about the program that, by October of this year, team members had already passed their 2006 giving goal of time and money.
In terms of community giving, one company defines the idea two different ways: that of giving back to the community and the community itself giving.
At Focus Property Group and its partner in development management, Landtek, philanthropy was already part of the company culture due to CEO John Ritter’s charitable trust, so Focus put two ideas together.
The company split employees into four teams to focus on projects revolving around foster children, make-a-wish organizations and domestic violence issues. “It’s been a very good blend for us, with very successful outcomes,” said Vincent Zamora, vice president, human resources. “We’ve ingrained philanthropy into the culture [of the companies] and done some very exciting things.”
One rather unique thing Focus has accomplished is to involve residents in the communities the company builds. Each master-planned community embraces a different charitable cause, allowing residents to become involved in the community where they live and the larger community around them. So, Mountain’s Edge, a 3,500-acre community, hosts a Boy Scout Explorer’s Post for high school students. Providence, a 1,200-acre community, focuses efforts on literacy and collects books for children throughout the Valley.
MGM MIRAGE works through a corporate foundation giving project that matches employee contributions. Together with a work-based giving campaign that allows employees to give through payroll deductions, MGM MIRAGE raised $6.2 million last year for charitable organizations. In addition, MGM MIRAGE underwrites the administrative expenses of the non-profit organizations benefitting from the contributions so that the largest percentage of each dollar possible goes to the non-profit’s programs, not to the agency’s bottom line.
When looking at a proposal for assistance from a non-profit, almost every business takes the agency’s bottom line into account. “We absolutely do take that into consideration,because to us, a good non-profit should run as efficiently as any other business,” said Merlinda Gallegos, vice president, corporate philanthropy, MGM MIRAGE. “The benchmark we use is the United Way accreditation – no more than 25 percent should go to overhead and we prefer it to be even less, from 15 percent to 20 percent. With our shareholder dollars, to give them good return on their investment, most of that should be going to the people in need.”
And just who are those people and agencies receiving the generosity of the Nevada business community? MGM MIRAGE allows employees to decide what agencies to work with, presenting opportunities based on geographical availability, and focuses on education-related issues along with community development projects.
But just as many of the companies giving back to the community aren’t capitalizing on the marketing potential, but instead, are giving because giving feels good, most of them keep a strict eye on where the donated money goes and who benefits from it. Since they’re not in it for the glory, most companies chose not to talk about exactly who their dollars go to benefit.
Instead, they talked about the community as a whole – about bringing the community together and about what the non-profit organizations can do with the money. There are thousands of opportunities for corporate giving – in Washoe County alone, there are some 2,000 non-profit agencies to choose from, according to Stuart Golder, president, Sierra Chapter AFP. Companies looking for a cause to celebrate and a charity to support can check out the United Way Web site for a list of non-profit agencies.
Every company has its own focus. At Wells Fargo, the focus tends to be primarily centered around children. “Educating them, keeping them healthy, keeping them off drugs, in school, helping them move on to higher education. To a lesser extent, but not significantly, we give to health and human services, environmental concerns and arts and culture,” said Clausen.
According to Wedding, it’s important for companies to align their corporate mission with their corporate giving. This insures the missions of the company and the organization don’t conflict, but it also allows companies to give in-kind, using employee strengths and skills to augment financial giving with in-kind donations of expertise.
For The Howard Hughes Corporation, the parent company affiliate of General Growth Properties, it meant setting up a giving program that incorporates what they do. “When you have philanthropic giving in a large corporation, you need to have a strategic giving program,” said Tom Warden, vice president, community and government relations. “You just can’t consider all the requests you get, you have to decide where you want to make a difference.” Howard Hughes Corp. chose to work with community building projects and organizations and focused on four areas: children’s issues; environmental issues; education; and cultural issues.
In Northern Nevada, IGT has made philanthropy a part of its corporate culture and aligns its mission with its charitable work. A portion of its charitable work consists of in-kind contributions to agencies that need computer equipment and used gaming machines. IGT also volunteers use of its facility for fundraising events. Once the Southern Nevada property is functional, similar events will be possible there as well, according to Rick Sorensen, public relations manager.
When it’s time to determine what IGT will support in an upcoming fiscal year, a committee meets to make decisions, choosing from among IGT’s five major categories of corporate giving: children and family; civic; arts and multicultural issues; health and wellness; and education. However, frequently, new opportunities are considered. “We encourage our employees to give their time to organizations in which they have a personal interest,” said Sorensen. “And they’re usually not shy about telling us what those are.”
“Corporate giving should be considered with the same amount of thought and acumen as daily business operations,” said Wedding. “The message is to do it the right way, with effort and energy and thought behind it and it becomes a part of the company culture.”
Most companies involved in charitable giving get a large number of applications from agencies in their communities looking for support. Many applications are requests from agencies the company has worked with on an ongoing basis and most are reviewed and renewed. New applications need to meet company criteria such as the length of time an organization has been in existence, its mission and the results it has attained so far.
“We have giving guidelines that all non-profits must meet in order to receive consideration,” said Gina B. Polovina, vice president, government and community affairs, Boyd Gaming Corporation. The company only takes requests in writing, with a thorough description of the project to be funded. The agency needs to be a 501(c)3 non-profit, and the project must fit within the scope of Boyd’s philanthropic guidelines: community, health and human services; culture; education; general gaming and business associations.
“While the programs we fund may vary from year to year, it’s important that new projects requesting funding do not replicate the services currently being offered by another well-established non-profit,” said Polovina. “Addressing a need that has previously gone unrecognized is essential in a state with non-profit agencies numbering in the thousands.”
Corporations can also contribute to the community by encouraging employees to sit on an organization’s boards of directors, helping to actually steer the non-profit agency doing the good work. “We currently have employees sitting on approximately 30 boards, commissions or committees in Southern Nevada,” said McCoy. Embarq employees are encouraged to join in the community giving with high-profile events throughout the year that drive employee enthusiasm in the areas Embarq supports, which include education, senior issues and, recently, the environment. According to McCoy, the company’s goal for 2008 is 100 percent involvement from Embarq’s 1,200 Nevada employees.
It’s not possible to fund every request from every non-profit. Even when the requesting non-profit agency’s mission is aligned with the scope of the corporation doing the giving, new requests are still likely to encounter an uphill battle. For Wells Fargo, “with new requests I would have to say, if we can address three out of 10 of them that’s a good strong number,” said Clausen. In round figures, Warden estimates somewhere between 15 percent and 25 percent get funded by The Howard Hughes Corporation. In a state with thousands of non-profit agencies, those numbers are pretty good.
Tax advantages go hand-in-hand with charitable giving, but most companies don’t even mention them – corporate giving falls into the operating budget. It becomes part of being a good corporate citizen. The goal isn’t to attain tax advantages or PR opportunities. “It’s the connection to the community that takes place when corporations get involved, and the personal satisfaction employees feel when engaging in philanthropic activities,” said Golder. Simply put, “It feels good to help.”