What Gives?

By Hannah Wallace November 30, 2004

If an informal survey of local businesses is an indicator (and by that I mean a phone chat with a few of the area's historically most generous corporate citizens), corporate philanthropy will remain flat in 2005.

That's actually better than the national trend. According to the American Association of Fundraising Council, corporate giving nationwide last year decreased slightly-1.6 percent of pre-tax profits, down from 1.7 percent in 2002. (The all-time high was 2 percent of pre-tax profits back in 1986.)

No one was brave enough to talk actual dollars or divulge the charities that get the lion's share of their philanthropic budgets. "We don't share that number," says Brett Rees, senior vice president and director of sales and marketing at Northern Trust Bank, "because if organizations see it they tend to think they deserve more."

But Rees did say Northern Trust's charitable giving budget "is probably going to be flat, and the trend has been flat for the past couple of years, because the banking business from a trust investment fee standpoint and banking standpoint has not grown rapidly."

In 2004, Northern Trust supported more than 150 organizations in Sarasota and Manatee counties at some level, whether through monetary donations, advertising in playbills, underwriting special events or hosting them in the bank's 11th floor community rooms.

"There are a lot of ways we give, and you can't categorize that in a dollar amount," says Rees. "If you just use numbers you won't get the full picture."

Rees says the bank relies on a few basic criteria in its charitable giving: "Is the entity we're asked to support a client of the bank? Are any of the bank's clients or employees actively involved with the organization? Is it reaching a new market for us that we may not have a lot of clients in-we supported some strategic events in Lakewood Ranch, for example, that we didn't support before."

And finally, says Rees, "We support organizations that we think make Sarasota and Manatee counties a great place to live. It's not an easy job, because you can't say yes to everybody and you want to."

The law firm of Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen not only makes charitable donations out of its general marketing budget, but gives its 44 attorneys their own dollars to donate as they see fit. Marketing director Pam Ringquist says the philanthropic budget has held steady at least as long as she's been with the firm, since 2001.

"In a given year, the firm supports 15 to 20 organizations-American Cancer Society, Asolo, Opera, Florida West Coast Symphony, the Education Foundation, Argus Foundation for business philanthropy-it's all over the board," she says. "Typically, if an attorney or client is involved with the organization we support their commitment, or if there's a particular cause the firm is interested, like education and family. We're definitely believers in cause marketing."

The criteria are basically the same at the accounting firm of Kerkering Barberio & Company, says chief operating officer John Nicholas. He told us at press time that, while the 2005 philanthropy budget had not yet been set, he was optimistic it would increase by 5 percent, as it has for the past few years. "We want to support organizations that are close to the hearts of our own people," he says. "We place a high value on helping organizations where we've got a connection."

The lessons are clear for the nonprofits that compete for those precious corporate dollars. Reach out to the business community. Give them tours of your facilities. Introduce them to your clients and volunteers so they can learn firsthand about the good work you do. Recruit them for your committees and boards. Host occasional executive director lunches. Create lasting relationships so that, come budget time, your group will become an obvious line item in their philanthropy budgets.

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