Corporate Charity Gives Both Ways

Corporate Charity Gives Both Ways

By Jim Jordan on Dec 15th, 2003 12:34 PM

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Mixed Motives Push Firms, Non-profits into symbiosis

It's a simple idea.

Have local artists create a holiday calendar that will have ads for local companies. The calendars, which sell for $12 each, can be sent to customers and friends as a holiday greetings. "We are providing an advertising or marketing vehicle for our sponsors," said Marty Henton, director of The Living Arts and Science Center in Lexington.

The center's 2004 calendar is selling briskly, and corporations are the big buyers, Henton said. Valvoline alone bought 1,000 copies.

It's an example of a common practice: Non-profit organizations raising money by joining with for-profit corporations.

Both groups are selective.

Both groups have mixed motives.

Non-profits want sponsors who have good reputations, who are compatible with the non-profit's programs, and who might attract contributions to the non-profit.

Corporations want partners who can enhance their image, generate publicity, drive sales or even train future employees.

Don Jacobs Honda recently donated a damaged 2004 Honda to Lexington's Eastside Center for Applied Technology. It will be used to train about 200 student mechanics.

"Students who complete this training will have a real opportunity to become Honda technicians," Jacobs said in announcing the donation, which was valued at $20,000.

If the corporate donor is publicly owned, like the Disney Co., it will have to evaluate every charitable act for possible gains for its employees, shareholders and other "constituencies," Jody Carbiener Dreyer said during a talk at the University of Kentucky recently. "They really are, in many ways, our bosses."

Dreyer, a 1983 UK graduate, is senior vice president in charge of Disney Worldwide Outreach, which provides about $140 million a year in cash and services to dozens of charities.

Disney has five criteria for evaluating potential non-profit partners, and the No. 1 rule is that the pairing must "provide a benefit to our business," she said.

For example, Disney owns the ESPN cable television sports channels. Dreyer said ESPN employees join with community volunteers to collect used equipment and renovate playing fields so low-income children can participate in sports.

"Nine times out of 10, when a (charitable) program works for us, it's in partnership with one of the businesses of the Disney Co.," she told her UK audience.

Disney also looks for non-profit partners, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, that "fit our mission," Dreyer said. The company and the foundation bring terminally ill children and their families to Disney theme parks.

Dreyer said most charitable projects help communities where Disney has operations, benefit the company by providing "team-building" experiences for employees, and produce "positive PR."

"If we are doing the right thing," she said, "positive press will follow from it."

One example occurred during the recent California wildfires, when actors dressed as Disney movie characters visited a shelter for families whose homes were destroyed.

Dreyer showed her UK audience the television news coverage of the visit, including pictures of Disney employee-volunteers helping the families.

"The volunteers are really the face of what we do," she said.

"It's important that we have the right programs, but equally important that we communicate what we do," Dreyer added. "It's tough to do."

Some basic differences

The building of bridges between the for-profit and non-profit worlds is often done by employees who begin working with non-profits as volunteers, said Robert Lewis. His Lexington firm, Global Advancement, advises non-profits on fund-raising campaigns.

In other cases, the non-profit might invite a corporate executive to sit on its board of directors, Lewis said. In either case, employee involvement increases the chances that the company will partner with the non-profit.

"Finding mutual interests is the key," he said.

Leaders of both groups have to keep in mind the basic differences between non-profit groups and for-profit corporations. A non-profit raises money; a for-profit earns money.

If a company's profits fall, its charitable giving may be reduced, Lewis said. "You would hope the charity would show them compassion and realize that companies can't give in bad times the way they did in prosperous times."

But the "really good news," he said, is that corporate charitable giving remained strong during the last recession, and is now growing faster than giving by individuals and foundations.

Preliminary data from Giving USA, a key monitor of national philanthropy, shows that charities and non-profits received nearly $241 billion from all sources in 2002, compared with $238.5 billion in 2001.

As usual, the largest amount in 2002 -- 83 percent of the total -- came from individuals or bequests in their wills, said Giving USA, which uses federal tax return data to track philanthropy.

Foundations contributed 11 percent of the 2002 total, and corporations 5 percent.

The corporate slice was the smallest, $12.2 billion, but it was the piece of the pie that grew the most -- a whopping 8.8 percent from 2001.

Individual giving actually declined nearly 1 percent, Giving USA said.

Working harder in Kentucky

Even with the national increase in corporate generosity, Kentucky non-profits often have to work harder for contributions, Lewis said.

Compared with many other states, Kentucky is the home of fewer corporations and large corporate subsidiaries.

In addition, the large companies that are in Kentucky are more likely to be bombarded with requests from charities, and less likely to honor all of them.

"The challenge for Kentucky charities is to find new corporate donors," Lewis said.

Smaller companies that are growing and giving, but not attracting a lot of attention, are on every non-profit's shopping list, Lewis said. A non-profit partner might give the company some of the recognition it needs.

Reach Jim Jordan at (859) 231-3242 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3242, or

(1) by CHARLES BERTRAM , STAFF - John Wiggle of American Honda talked to students at Eastside Center for Applied Technology in Lexington last month upon donation of a damaged car valued at $20,000. The gift could help the donor by helping train future technicians for Honda. (2) - Jody Carbiener Dreyer, of Disney Worldwide Outreach, views giving pragmatically.


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