Corporate philanthropy is vital to Central Ohio nonprofits. Whether it's writing a big check, recruiting volunteers or donating supplies, area businesses are finding creative ways to give back to the community.

Like geologic forces, pressures from the sluggish economy have put the squeeze on corporate philanthropy in Central Ohio. However, nonprofit organizations skilled at targeting the right donors and presenting their mission's value to the community have found they can still reap support for their cause.

Increasingly, corporate foundations are prioritizing their gifts; nonprofits most closely aligned to a donor's mission are more likely to receive funding. Additionally, nonprofits must demonstrate efficient use of resources to retain support from the business community.

"Corporations have been inundated with requests from nonprofits for funding. You need to convince the corporation you are worthy of their support, that you are vital to the community," says Chuck Gehring, president and CEO of LifeCare Alliance.

While many companies have fewer dollars to give, most are still giving something. Large organizations such as PNC and Huntington National Bank allow their regional divisions to choose their own philanthropic focus. Jim Kunk, president of Huntington's Central Ohio region, says four areas receive attention locally: affordable housing, economic development, financial education and critical needs. "Because we are a financial institution and it's a difficult time with housing issues, we've tried to increase our focus on housing and economic development," Kunk says.

As government funding that nonprofits used to count on has shrunk, corporate dollars have become a more important revenue stream. At Children's Hunger Alliance, donated dollars allow it to put more food in young mouths. "Without corporate support, we would not be able to do the work we do. We do get a lot of government dollars, but they don't cover all the expenses of administering the program," says Mary Lou Langenhop, president and CEO of Children's Hunger Alliance.

PNC's philanthropic focus is on economic development as well as its Grow Up Great and Arts Alive programs. Through Grow Up Great, its signature program, PNC committed $100 million over 10 years companywide to help children age 5 and younger prepare for school and life.

The three-year, $1.5 million Arts Alive commitment awards grants of $25,000 and up to local groups, including the Arts Castle in Delaware and the Midland Theatre in Newark. "Arts are a key engine of economic development," says PNC Central Ohio Regional President Mike Gonsiorowski.

PNC entered the Ohio market with its purchase of National City Bank, which did less corporate giving. "We find ourselves in the enviable position of a company that has more charitable contributions than in the past," says Gonsiorowski.

The Safelite Group expanded its corporate philanthropic initiatives systemwide in 2010. "Historically, most of our giving has centered on Central Ohio. We're expanding that across our company now," says Randy Randolph, chairman of the Safelite Charitable Foundation.

Many corporations allow nonprofits to request funds online, where they can explain their needs and how they fit with the company's philanthropic mission. At Huntington, a committee reviews requests and decides which ones fit, providing feedback as needed. "We've encouraged the nonprofits to come back to us with a program about financial education or affordable housing, then Huntington Bank will support them," Kunk says.

Not-for-profit organizations must work with existing donors and constantly reach out to new prospects to ensure funding needs are met. The recession has tilted donations toward human services, but that funding cannot be taken for granted, says Marilyn Frank, executive director of Creative Living, which owns and operates two apartment buildings where people with spinal cord injuries can live independently.

Creative Living receives 51 percent of donations from individuals, 39 percent from corporate support and 10 percent from fundraising. "You always have to ask. People won't send a random check. Columbus has generous corporations which give support," Frank says.

Philanthropic Partnerships

Cardinal Health revamped its philanthropic efforts three years ago to focus on health-related initiatives. "There was a concerted recognition that we needed to be more strategic. The more narrow the focus, the more likely we are to make a difference," says Dianne Radigan, community relations director for Cardinal Health.

The shift meant some organizations no longer fit Cardinal Health's philanthropic goals, while others found innovative projects related to the new mission, Radigan says. The company continues its support of the arts, but in a tailored fashion. Through the Wexner Center for the Arts, students created public service announcements regarding prescription drug abuse.

New efforts include the Patient Safety Initiative, designed to reduce readmissions and help hospitals operate more efficiently. It includes all eight Ohio children's hospitals and eight Central Ohio hospitals. The project has reduced participating hospitals' health-care costs by $10.5 million, Radigan says. The pharmaceutical giant also donates more than $9 million in products every year, including gloves, gowns, drapes and surgical supplies, much of which goes toward disaster relief.

A partnership with the Ohio State University College of Pharmacy created toolkits for pharmacists to prevent prescription misuse and abuse of painkillers, a rampant problem among teens and young adults. "This was not an issue 10 years ago. We looked for a way to impact it," Radigan says.

The pharmacy program extends to older adults as well. First-year pharmacists meet with clients of LifeCare Alliance, arranging the seniors' medications to reduce the chance of dangerous drug interactions. In some cases, pharmacists have discovered prescriptions for multiple drugs in the same class prescribed by different doctors, Gehring says. Partnering with Cardinal Health allowed LifeCare Alliance to reach people it otherwise might not, he notes: "The new thinking is, ‘How can we partner with you to solve some sort of business issue.' "

Most companies don't simply donate and forget. The money comes with expectations. PNC monitors the nonprofits to which it donates for effectiveness. Arts Alive participants must prove results. "We'll ask the grantees to demonstrate they made their goals with these dollars. That's a practical and businesslike way of investing," Gonsiorowski says.

Through fundraising campaigns and other efforts, employees play a key role in many corporations' giving. In 2009, Safelite donated $659,260 in cash and in-kind contributions, $228,000 of which came from employees. Employees direct 25 percent of Cardinal's philanthropic dollars. The company matches all employee donations at 50 percent, but for health organizations, it matches dollar-for-dollar. "It was designed that way because our employees are interested in so many areas," Radigan says.

Not all corporate support arrives in the form of a check. Most companies take a multipronged approach to philanthropy, incorporating funding, volunteerism and in-kind contributions.

Many organizations sign on as sponsors for charity runs, walks and other athletic events. Huntington recruited 1,000 riders and raised $1 million for Pelotonia, the bicycle tour that supports cancer research at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center - James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute. "We saw that as an activity where the community was engaged," Kunk says.

Almost all corporate philanthropy ventures into education, but support takes many forms. Some companies send employees to volunteer in the classroom or make donations. Grange Insurance, meanwhile, became the lead donor for a new educational facility at the Scioto Audubon Metro Park, on the Whittier Peninsula south of downtown Columbus. The Grange Insurance Audubon Center opened in August 2009.

Volunteering

Human capital drives philanthropy as much as dollars. Corporations that promote volunteerism may field numerous requests. At Grange, team members deliver lunches for Meals on Wheels one day a week, participate in Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Ohio and volunteer at the Columbus Public Library. "We've encouraged supervisors to take their teams out. It allows them to do some bonding," says Margaret Wildi, Grange's assistant vice president of work life services.

More than 75 companies participate in LifeCare Alliance's Adopt-a-Route program for Meals on Wheels. Businesses are paired with clients who live close to their offices; there's no cost to companies and it saves the nonprofit some delivery expenses, Gehring says.

Safelite recently began "community days," allowing its 10,000 employees one day off to volunteer with a 501(c)3 organization. Randolph's team of 13 employees spent a day at Flying Horse Farms in Mount Gilead, a camp for sick children, and several groups of 30 or more have spent days at the Mid-Ohio Foodbank. The company also held Associate Volunteer Day in 2010, granting employees a paid day off to work with a charity of their choice. "The fulfillment of our people comes from spending time with causes important to them," Randolph says.

Once leadership demonstrates support for corporate giving, employees are quick to follow suit. "I appreciate the time people give as well as their dollars. Our board members know they have to make the first gift before they can go to their companies," Creative Living's Frank says.

Volunteer service may range from wrapping gifts for the Salvation Army to sitting on nonprofit boards. Most executives at Safelite sit on boards, including Randolph, who works with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Columbus.

"We encourage and expect our employees to provide volunteer service in the community," says Gonsiorowski, who serves as the United Way of Central Ohio's board chairman. PNC allows employees who participate in Grow Up Great up to 40 hours of work time a year for those efforts.

Huntington employees lead small business workshops in disadvantaged areas, working with area chambers of commerce and even local churches to bring in potential business owners. Past sessions have included teaching participants what banks expect from small businesses.

"We want them to volunteer with what makes them passionate. We communicate clearly where we're focusing the company resources," Kunk says. Volunteers receive recognition through the company newsletter and at functions Huntington hosts.

In-Kind Donations

Corporations can't support every nonprofit with employee time and dollars. Some donate resources that not only save nonprofits money, but also allow them to spend those savings on core services.

At Children's Hunger Alliance, every piece of furniture is secondhand, donated by corporate supporters. "We literally don't buy furniture," Langenhop says.

Grange often opens its in-house print shop to nonprofit organizations with connections to the company. Assistant vice president of community relations Patricia Eshman says Grange considers its in-kind offerings as valuable as donor dollars. Grange printed fundraising invitations and gave Creative Living access to Huff Hall, its meeting facility. "That's quite a contribution. Without it, we would have had to pay for printing and another location," Frank says.

Meeting the in-kind needs of nonprofits requires getting to know them through outreach efforts, Radigan says. "We went to our organizations and asked how we could help address their issues. There are areas where we can make a difference, but we need their input," she says.

Grange and students from OSU's Fisher College of Business helped Children's Hunger Alliance with a study on organizational efficiency. The project would have cost thousands of dollars had the nonprofit hired a consultant, but it was instead completed with minimal investment, Langenhop says.

For a Children's Hunger Alliance ice skating party, Nationwide Arena donated use of its facility and the OSU women's hockey team skated with the children. "We're constantly trying to look for the match between donor interest and what our needs are. Our corporations want to be a part of solving the issues that face the communities where their employees live and work," Langenhop says.

In-kind donations sometimes flow both ways, with a nonprofit helping a corporation. LifeCare Alliance receives donated products including food, new wheelchairs and other medical equipment. When pet-food maker Iams had a semi-trailer of product that was about to go to waste, the food instead went to the pets of Meals on Wheels seniors. Helping a company unload excess stock can help a nonprofit at fundraising time. "That served a need for a company that is business-minded. Once they engage you that way and see what you're doing, the cash follows," Gehring says.

Bill Melville is a freelance writer.

Reprinted from the February 2011 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.