Vancouver Business Journal presents: Profiles of Giving

Give ‘til it helps

‘New philanthropy’ dollars are coming out of companies’ marketing budgets

In one way or another, many Clark County businesses are involved in giving back to the community. They donate money, materials and time and encourage employees to get involved. The time invested and money given could otherwise go back into owners’ or shareholders’ pockets. But businesses say giving back is the right thing to do, and helping build a stronger community could lead to stronger business.

"We do accept responsibility for the impact that we have as an organization on the environment and the individuals that we serve," said Colleen Boccia, vice president of marketing at Columbia Credit Union. Financial institutions are required by law to give back to communities they serve, but, she said, "When we see the ability to reach out and extend the economy of scale to assist others more so than we could do individually, that is a good thing. It is good for the credit union, it is good for our members and ultimately good for the community."

There is no shortage of organizations seeking funding in Clark County, and companies and individuals are giving. According to the Evergreen State Society, Clark County had 239 non-profits in 2004 receiving $73.9 million in contributions.

Community Foundation of Southwest Washington Executive Director Nancy Hales said corporate giving in Clark County consistently grows each year. And while the money is coming in, Hales has seen a change in how it is given.

In the past, she said companies would cut an annual check to the organizations they supported. But today, companies are more savvy about philanthropy.

"There is an understanding of what your charitable dollars are doing and what you want your charitable dollars to do for you," said Hales.

Philanthropy boosts reputation

Matt Lewis, public affairs director for Pacific Lifestyle Homes, said buyers have a social conscience to a certain point.

"I think it weighs in on consumers’ minds when they see a company that is actively supporting the community," he said.

Boccia agreed that consumers align themselves with like-type philosophies, such as investors that make stock purchases based on their moral and social values, but she wasn’t sure if people do the same with financial institutions.

Now more than ever, said Hales, charitable dollars are coming out of marketing budgets, raising the question of whether it is still philanthropy.

"The contribution is still going to the charity, but it is also going to a charity with a degree of marketing or sponsorship attachment to it," said Hales.

Businesses are sponsoring and underwriting events with the expectation of public acknowledgment and recognition.

By including the company’s name on the paperweights it provides to charitable donations as giveaways at local events, Vancouver’s Pacific Die Casting Corp. recognizes the marketing potential corporate citizenship creates.

"It spreads what we do and supports the organization," said Bill Byrd, who owns the business along with his brother Bob Byrd.

Pacific Lifestyle Homes considers exposure for the company as well as benefits to the community when sponsoring some events, said Lewis.

"Any sort of marketing benefit is positive but peripheral," said Lewis.

And while the company’s charitable giving is separate from its marketing budget, Lewis can relate to the concept.

"It’s a good way to go if your company is spending thousands on advertising," he said. "If you can reach your target audiences and at the same time support community causes, it’s terrific."

Employees care

Hale said businesses also see the effect their citizenship has on a company’s corporate culture and employees.

"Companies that are interested in community philanthropy as something they believe is part of their culture are doing more sophisticated giving – addressing a systemic philosophy," she said.

Employees want to know the company they work for is a good corporate citizen they can be proud of, said Hales.

Columbia Credit Union encourages volunteerism by allowing employees to have time available to become involved. The company also surveys its employees on how they feel about the credit union’s community involvement and whether it is important.

Pacific Die Casting matched employee donations made by employees to support Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

"(Our employees) understand that we are (contributing) on top of what we are asking them to do," said Byrd. "If everyone helps, it makes it better for everybody."

Pacific Lifestyle Homes has formalized an employee-matching policy for 2006. The company will match funds donated or raised by employees for worthwhile causes. Lewis said it is a way to spread out the giving and encourage involvement by employees.

Healthy communities, healthy business

Aside from marketing, directing giving to specific causes can indirectly boost business down the road.

Pacific Lifestyle attempts to create a nexus between new-home construction and its community involvements, such as affordable housing issues, public schools and parks.

"We are trying to support a healthy and prosperous community with solid and stable charitable and civic organizations," said Lewis. "We want to build and sell homes, and to do that (Clark County) needs to be an attractive place to live and work."

Columbia Credit Union serves a much broader customer base, but it understands the connection between strong communities and a healthy business climate.

"Since the credit union does serve all of Clark County," said Boccia, "the more resources and assistance we can give to build a strong area we serve, the better off we are as an organization and the better we are as individuals."

The credit union is also supportive of credit union issues.

Southwest Washington meeting needs

Hales said the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts raised the largest amount ever for a charitable calling in this country. So does that mean people are giving less to other things, or are they giving more in general?

"This is a unique year, and I would suspect we are all giving more," she said.

Just as in 2001 when the economy dipped and foundations across the country were giving less, the Community Foundation is giving more, said Hales.

"Southwest Washington, for whatever set of reasons, gives more when we sense a compelling need," said Hales.

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