Good Work

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2007

From Benderson Development’s $750,000 contribution to Meals on Wheels Plus of Manatee County to U.S. Trust’s donation of more than $100,000 to New College of Florida, the Education Foundation of Sarasota County, the Sarasota Opera and Marie Selby Botanical Gardens, it’s been a big year for corporate philanthropy.

Whether they donate money for an arts education program  or volunteer their people-power for Habitat for Humanity, companies that give back to the community find that doing good works is good business—literally. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently reported on a study by several university researchers that showed that “for every new dollar a retail company, bank, or popular-goods manufacturer allocates to its charitable-giving budget, it can expect sales to grow on average by $6.”

Indeed, corporate philanthropy should be integral to any sustainable business model, says Harold McGraw III of The McGraw-Hill Companies, chairman of the international Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy.

“Through our giving, we define who we are, express our vision, and demonstrate our values,” he wrote in a recent e-newsletter. “Philanthropy is also an engine of economic growth. It's about investing in people and infrastructure to improve standards of living and the quality of life, creating new and stronger resources and opportunities for even greater growth.”

U.S. Trust used its donation to underwrite a “Hot Topics” series at New College. “We see that as our way of being part of a forum that generates ideas the community needs to wrestle with,” says Scott Merritt, division president of the U.S Trust Sarasota office. In that way, says Merritt, “We are planting ideas that will stand the test of time.


When Sarasota’s Phoenix Academy needed help marketing its mission to potential students and their families, John Fain and Angela Massaro-Fain of Grapevine Communications had just the ticket—a Golden Ticket, one of five it bestows annually on deserving nonprofit organizations.

Each year, the Fains invite nonprofits to apply for pro bono public relations and advertising services through their Golden Ticket program. They look first at organizations that serve at-risk youth, says Massaro-Fain, because the couple have an 11-year-old daughter who “is able to have so many wonderful things, and we saw so many children in need.” Among the beneficiaries have been Cyesis, the YMCA Foundation, Boys and Girls Clubs, Junior Achievement, G. WIZ and First Step of Sarasota. The Fains value their in-kind contributions at nearly $115,000 in 2006 alone.

The goal for Phoenix Academy, a two-year-old public choice school for eighth and ninth graders who’ve struggled academically, was to increase enrollment. Grapevine modified the school logo to make it more reproducible in print, created ads, developed brochures in English and Spanish, and designed, wrote and coded the school’s entire Web site, which is bilingual as well.

As a small business with 10 employees, Grapevine typically does not cover out-of-pocket expenses for its Golden Ticket recipients, Massaro-Fain says, but they will negotiate pricing with vendors. In this case, they persuaded Target Printers to print the Phoenix Academy brochures for free.

Being a Golden Ticket recipient “was huge for us,” says Stephen Cantees, principal of Phoenix Academy. “Everything we send out now has a very professional look and the same consistent message. I thought, golly, we’ve hit the jackpot.”

The academy, which is funded for a maximum 170 students, currently has an enrollment of 155. “It was a great success story,” says Massaro-Fain.


Large companies with lots of resources can think big about community service in ways that smaller businesses cannot. How big? During Comcast Cablevision’s annual Comcast Cares day last October, more than 200 employees rolled up their sleeves and renovated the 12-unit, north Sarasota Royal Palms apartment complex for Habitat for Humanity. In just five hours they ripped out old appliances, flooring and bathroom fixtures, installed new eaves, painted inside and out, and landscaped the front yard.

“It’s in the Volunteer Book of Miracles,” says Habitat executive director Mike Jacobson. “They literally transformed the three buildings and put us ahead of schedule by months.”

Terri Weldon, government and public affairs manager for Comcast, likened the experience to Extreme Makeover—“the difference from when we started at eight o’clock that morning to when we left that afternoon.” In addition, at the end of the day, executives from Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters presented Habitat with a $25,000 donation.

Weldon found out about Habitat’s needs through a Comcast employee who volunteers for the nonprofit organization. “The apartment complex renovation was something they’d never done before,” says Weldon. “That appealed to us, and the fact that they could use so many of our employees on one project.” The local effort was part of a national one-day effort by Comcast, in which 30,000 employees volunteered 180,000 hours at 300 nonprofit organizations across the country.

Comcast, which focuses most of its philanthropic efforts on children, literacy and technology, currently supports the Sarasota Reading Festival, Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Sun Coast’s Reading Bigs program, the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Access to the Arts education program and Looking for Angola, a multidisciplinary research project that is working with Sarasota and Manatee County seventh graders and their teachers.

“Literacy was near and dear to the heart of Ralph Roberts, one of Comcast’s founders in 1964,” says Weldon. “We feel, at a very basic level, it’s important that anyone who uses the Internet and our basic products has to be literate.” 


Bradenton-based Champs Sports, a division of the national athletic wear company, Foot Locker, Inc., looked no further than the neighborhood around its corporate headquarters to effect social change.

Champs set its sights on the nearby 13th Avenue Community Center, which, along with its sister facility in Rubonia, provides after-school programs annually for 1,500 5- to 15-year-old youngsters from low-income families.  

 Not only has Champs raised more than $200,000 for a new building for the community center by organizing its Celebrity Sports Night (the fifth annual gala will be this May 4), but its 125 employees mentor the center’s young clients, provide athletic shoes and all kinds of sports equipment, adopt families for back-to-school giveaways, and advise the board of directors on best business practices.

“Champs is heaven-sent,” says United Community Centers executive director Patrick Carnegie. “We feel like we’re part of the Champs family and they feel the same way about us. The definition of a good corporate citizen should have Champs written in it.”

Rebecca Kreitsek, Champs human resources vice president, serves on the community centers’ board. “We chose them simply because we saw a tremendous need that we did not think was being serviced by other businesses in the community,” she says. “And they’re our neighbors, a couple of blocks away from us. It’s an opportunity to help some of the disadvantaged children in our own community.”

It’s a hands-on effort. For the Celebrity Sports Night, for example, Champs employees do everything from designing the invitations to creating sponsorship programs and materials, and securing the majority of the celebrities who attend (among them, NFL greats Tiki and Ronde Barber). Many of its vendors give in-kind donations and fly in for the event. Last year marked the third consecutive year of increasing revenues; almost $95,000 was raised, Kreitsek says proudly, and 235 people attended.

“Our associates volunteer because they’re truly committed to the work and every day see the benefit that the community center does in our community. And what’s good for the community center is good for all of us.”


Chuck Vollmer, managing director of the Stanford Group Company, the Vollmer Financial Group on Longboat Key, is a numbers man. So it’s understandable that he’s bullish on the success of his company’s fledgling celebrity golf and tennis tournaments.

In 2005, the inaugural year, the tourneys raised a combined $500,000—net—for the Sarasota Sports Foundation; in 2006, the bottom line was a remarkable $700,000. This year’s goal: “One million dollars,” Vollmer says firmly, “and everyone is committed to making that happen.” (The tennis tournament was held at the Longboat Key Club in mid-March; the golf tournament will be Nov. 16 and 17.)

The two-year-old Sarasota Sports Foundation gives grants to other nonprofits that help stop child abuse, neglect and abandonment. “It’s a noble cause and one that is underfunded, like most things,” says Vollmer. “Part of the attraction for us was the passion [its founders] delivered at the beginning. You absolutely knew these people cared about the children they wanted to help. We were dealing with the same people with the same philosophy, and we said, ‘let’s get it done.’”

Like Champs Sports, the Stanford Group gives more than money. It secures sports celebrities, such as tennis pro Jim Courier, and it offers auction items around its affiliation with the PGA tour. (Nationally, the Stanford Group sponsors the Stanford St. Jude golf championship.) Importantly, Vollmer says, “We try to get those people who are close to us to attend these events, raise their paddles and bid.

The hands-on attitude obviously pays off. “We’re on a mission to help these kids and everybody involved believes that mission. You’re dealing with a passion that gets results.”

To Trish Fitzgerald, Sarasota Sports Foundation executive director, “The Stanford Group’s support, and the support of the Longboat Key Club, which donated over $100,000 in food and services last year, has been a dream come true.”

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