Every Little Bit Helps

Companies Look to Align Corporate and Philanthropic Values

Fraser Nelson

April 8, 2013

Utah is, far and away, the most charitable state in the nation. The Chronicle of Philanthropy’s study “How America Gives” found that Utahns give an astonishing 10.6 percent of their annual income to charity, while the national average is 4.7 percent. Orem-ites blow the wealthiest New Yorkers out of the water, giving nearly 14 percent of their income, compared to 8 percent for the residents of the fabled “upper east side.”

By contrast, no Utah-based corporation shows up on any list of largest corporate foundations. Only one Utah-based Fortune 500 company, Huntsman Corp., has its official headquarters in Utah. In fact, three-quarters of Utah’s top 25 employers are themselves either nonprofits or a branch of government.

So in Utah, the national truth that corporations make up only a small portion of total giving holds even more true. In 2011, U.S. corporations represented just 5 percent of overall giving, and about half was in-kind. The annual Giving USA study found that few companies planned to increase their giving in 2012. In Utah, as in the nation, individual giving remains the vast majority—88 percent—of total contributions.

Corporations, however, are taking on new roles in the social sphere, and the Community Foundation of Utah sees these national trends mirrored in our state. Companies of all sizes are increasingly aligning their philanthropy with business objectives. They are shifting their decision making from a top-down to an employee-choice approach. And there is increased interest in skills-based volunteerism.

Return on Investment

Partnerships and relationships are key to aligning a nonprofit’s mission with corporate values. Prosperity 2020, “the largest gathering of business leaders ever united to help improve education in Utah,” is an excellent example of this trend. These businesses, including a few nonprofits, joined together to create and fund their own nonprofit organization to focus on a common mission crucial to their bottom line: an educated workforce.

The trend toward employee choice and input in grant-making is also evident here. Some companies are choosing to match employee giving to whichever cause they support—important in an increasingly diverse workforce. Love UT Give UT, the recent statewide day of giving, reflected this trend. Dozens of companies, including Integracore, matched gifts to hundreds of schools and nonprofits across Utah, letting the interest of the employee drive giving, rather than the top leadership of the company.

Companies of all sizes are seeking out projects that provide a direct benefit to their local community and offer branding opportunities. As more combine their marketing and philanthropic dollars, there is new pressure for a return on investment for dollars that used to be seen as charitable in purpose only.

Smart nonprofits are learning how to market their corporate donors in a new way. Sharon Cook, senior vice president of Mountain America Credit Union, explains her approach: “We need to see that our giving is having a real impact in the communities where we do business, and for our customers, not just the nonprofit. I respect an agency that understands my need to grow the company so that I can give more, rather than simply asking me for a donation with no thought to how it impacts my bottom line.”

Targeted Efforts

Corporations have always been a strong source of volunteers. But rather than simply paint a house—a valuable service and a great team-building exercise—they are also looking to use the skills of their employees for the common good.

Recently, the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney held a legal clinic for 40 area nonprofits and Tanner + Co. sponsored a “speed mentoring” event partnering business leaders with nonprofit executive directors. The Community Foundation of Utah helped by linking the nonprofit sector, and the experts provided the content, pro bono. Networks were expanded, companies were branded as caring in a new way, and the nonprofits received advice they could otherwise not afford.

Entrepreneur and CLEARLINK CEO Phil Hansen describes this alignment of values and philanthropy this way: “That is why I became an entrepreneur—I wanted to build something that reflected the things that matter most to me: unique experiences, relationships and opportunity.”

As a result, CLEARLINK invests heavily in its employees’ education, investing in changing individuals, communities and the company’s bottom line. “I think of my world in concentric circles, reaching out from this building and the people I work with to their communities and the people they touch. They are the ones who drive the change.”

CLEARLINK is an example of a company that is moving on all three trends in corporate philanthropy: aligning giving with business objectives, engaging employees in the decisions about how and where to give, and volunteerism that uses and builds the unique skills of its employees. These three approaches are a powerful investment in our community whose impact extends far beyond a traditional “donation.”

Fraser Nelson is the executive director of The Community Foundation.

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