Recap - Bay Area Corporate Giving Trends: Philanthropy and Iconic Brands

MTG 11-13-2015

Last Friday, Foundation Center San Francisco, Development Executives Roundtable (DER) and the San Francisco Business Times hosted a panel discussion of Bay Area corporate giving representatives. The panel discussed how big brands think about their philanthropic legacies, trends in corporate giving, and new approaches and directions for how companies are investing in their communities. The panel included:

  • Randy Chun, Regional Vice President, Wells Fargo Foundation
  • Daniel Lee, Executive Director, Levi Strauss Foundation
  • Justin Steele, Bay Area Giving Lead, Google.org
  • Jason Trimiew, VP, Community Relations, San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee

Janet Camarena, Director for Transparency Initiatives at Foundation Center San Francisco, moderated the panel. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion:

Iconic Brands: How would you define your brand, what role does it play when it comes to your giving strategy and how did it develop over time?
Daniel Lee from the Levi Strauss Foundation introduced us briefly to the corporate giving philosophy of his company. Soon after starting his business in 1854, Levi Strauss initiated philanthropic programs benefitting the miners working in the goldmines, donated significant amounts of money to the local orphanages, and offered scholarships for women, among other things. He became a symbol of cultural change and took this spirit into his work. What does that mean today in terms of philanthropic legacies? Daniel stressed that there are four pillars that shape the company’s giving activities:

  • Originality
  • Empathy: Focus on the most marginalized
  • Integrity
  • Encouragement: Take courageous standpoints

The grantees that are selected by the foundation are game-changers and social pioneers in philanthropy and social justice.

Randy Chun from the Wells Fargo Foundation shared the philanthropic history of Henry Wells, the founder of Wells Fargo bank. As an engaged community member, Henry was convinced that a business is only as healthy as its community is, and that philanthropy is one way to support society. Giving strategies have to be locally driven and focused on what is important to the community one lives in.

Justin Steele from Google.org stressed that funders often don’t want to take the risks of bold investments and here is where Google.org can fill the gap. “How do you do local philanthropy work,” Justin asked, “if you are a worldwide operating company?” The answer lies in building sustainable relationships at the local basis, person by person. “It is crucial to partner more deeply with local communities,” he said, but added that he is still trying to figure out the best way to do so.

Jason Trimiew from 50 Fund, the philanthropic arm of the San Francisco Bay Area Super Bowl 50 Host Committee, emphasized how important it is to step out to the plate and use resources to lift up local organizations to make them more visible. The Committee’s goal is to support organizations that are already well established on the ground, not to reinvent the wheel.

Developing signature programs: How do they differ from the regular giving strategy?
In Daniel Lee’s opinion it is important to look back to the company’s philanthropic strategy and define what resonates best with the community. Involving the new generations, understanding new tools, learning alongside organizations, and documenting fundamental changes is crucial. “Going big by going deep” with a small number of grantees is the motto behind this signature program strategy at Levi Strauss Foundation

What types of programs and organizations does your company support? Examples of community partnerships: What criteria do they have to meet?
Justin Steele shared that there are three core areas Google.org is involved with, which include homelessness, youth employment, and racial justice – it is a relational focused development process getting out to the community and seeing who is doing good work in these areas. The organization reaches out to those organizations and specifically focuses on funding direct service programs that address these core issues. There is also the annual Google Impact Challenge that has an open call where any nonprofit is encouraged to apply worldwide.

Randy Chun described a program that was developed in response to the mortgage crisis. The focus was to help solve the affordable housing issue in the Bay Area. The Lift Program was launched by Wells Fargo Foundation in order to collaborate with local nonprofits by holding sessions to discuss credit counseling, homeownership, and other issues around mortgage processes. Over 10,000 homeowners were able to purchase or to keep their homes. He stressed that this number is still relatively small compared to the population and that efforts in solving this crisis still need to continue.

Daniel Lee shared an example of a program at Levi Strauss Foundation for women employees that were offered to participate in reproductive health programs and pointed out how important it is to invest in well-being initiatives to ensure the health of employees – if a company invests in its workers’ health, this leads to better productivity. “What’s good for the worker is good for business,” as he put it – the ROI (Return on Investment) was improved.

Jason Trimiew described 50 Fund’s playmaker program that intends to shine a spotlight on the organizations and individuals that are working in the Bay Area. The grantees have the chance to produce a video talking about their cause and can share it with their community.

Brand reputation and image: What are the challenges and how do you deal with a negative image?
Justin Steele emphasized that there is no substitute to going out to the community and talking to the local leaders of philanthropic entities. The tech boom brought the economic boom and everyone should be participating in this boom. Housing is a difficult issue and Google.org is working with policy teams on investing in affordable housing initiatives.

Daniel Lee pointed out that pressure is a privilege. A good company will listen to the employees’ and join them shoulder-to-shoulder to fight for their cause despite stigma and controversy.

These are just a few selected moments of the conversation. Get more insights and watch the entire video to hear an uplifting discussion about Bay Area Corporate Giving Trends: Philanthropy and Iconic Brands.