December PBA Forum: for real success, business philanthropy requires some forethought

Corporate charitable giving is not only a major part of the regional economy, it is also growing more sophisticated, with both companies and the non-profits they support cooperating to benefit each other.

A good example is the Housing is Health campaign that raised $21.5 million for Central City Concern, a Portland homeless organization, to improve the health of the people they serve. It was supported by five major health care providers, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, which contributed $4 million. The contributions are part of a $69 million initiative to be build 400 housing units for the homeless and poor.

"Health care companies are increasingly working in a more collaborative way than other sectors [of the economy]. They are thinking about, how can we stop treating sickness and start doing more preventative health care," says Keith Thomajan, president and CEO of United Way of the Columbia-Pacific.PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - The PBA panel discusses corporate giving.

Thomajan spoke on a panel titled "Corporate Giving and the Regional Economy" at last Wednesday morning's Portland Business Alliance Forum Breakfast. When she introduced the panel, PBA Chair D.J. Wilson said local companies have given $292 million to non-profits since 2014 — a large portion of their funding that also includes government and foundation grants.

Corporations provide even more support, however, with officers serving on boards of directors and employees making their own matched donations and volunteering their time.

"The corporate sector plays a unique foundation role for the social sector," said another panelist, Dan Field, executive director of community benefit and external affairs for Kaiser Permanente Northwest.

The other panelists were: Michelle Weisenbach, market president and commercial banking leader for Key Bank; and Bill Dickey, CEO of Morel Ink, a printing company in Northeast Portland, the small business owner in the group.

Dickey said his corporate giving strategy was fairly simple. He tries to give one percent of the company's gross revenues to local causes he believes in every year. They range from the Gay Men's Chorus to the 42nd Avenue Business Association, which includes businesses in the neighborhood where his shop is located.

"Community giving goes back to Biblical times. Cast your bread upon the waters. If you give to your community, your community gives back to you," Dickey said.

Weisenbach agreed, saying Key Bank and other financial institution frequently contribute to non-profits working to reduce poverty and increase educational opportunities in their communities. She said that Key Bank matches contributes given by its employees to nonprofit organizations, like many other companies.

"If your community thrives, your businesses thrive," said Weisenbach.

Some strategies are more complex, the other panelists explained, even though the goal is largely the same. For example, "context-focused philanthropy" strives to align giving with corporate brands. Examples cited include Intel, a high-tech company with manufacturing plants in Hillsboro, supporting STEM classes in the pubic schools. Another is Nike, the large athletic apparel company headquartered just outside Beaverton, supporting physical education classes and activities in the schools.

Another strategy is to "align contributions with social responsibility objectives related to your business," Fields said. He cited Starbucks, Portland-based Sunshine Dairy and Tualatin-based Pacific Foods as companies who donate to nonprofits working to increase the sustainability of the ingredients in their products.

"Their philanthropy is embedded in their products," Fields said.

Thomajan praised regional companies for giving so much every year, especially considering only two Fortune 500 companies are headquartered here, Nike and Precision Castparts. Thomajan said his United Way chapter received $28 million for regional companies last year, the 24th largest amount of all such chapters in the county. All of the others had five, 10 and even 15 Fortune 500 companies headquartered in them.

"There's a direct correlation between Fortune 500 headquarter cities and corporate giving, so our local companies are being very generous," said Thomajan.

PBA president and CEO Sandra McDonough pointed out the emerging trend of "transformational giving," large donations intended to make big changes in society. She cited the example of Nike founder Phil Knight and his wife, Penny, who gave $1 billion of their own money over the past year to charities, including $500,000,000 as a matching grant to establish the Knight Cancer Institute at the Oregon Health & Science University.

Thomajan said that although there are around 22,000 nonprofits in Oregon, not all of them have the wherewithal to make significant positive changes in their communities — which is why corporations frequently enter into long-term relationships with organizations with proven track records.

"That's a lot of good intentions, but only a small percent of them have the ability to move the needle on economic, educational and other causes," said Thomajan.

The forum ended on a light note as Wilson, the general manager of KGW, feigned surprise when Santa Claus entered the ballroom of the Sentinel Hotel carry a bag of toys to donate to her station's Great Toy Drive. She estimated the annual drive had collected around 60,000 new toys to be given to the community's less fortunate families this year.

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