Christy Read, development director for Benjamin Franklin High School, knows that it really does take a village to educate children. It is especially good when that village includes enthusiastic corporate partners. Read, a Franklin graduate, says many of the businesses that help underwrite school programs are owned or staffed by alums, who see their donations as a way to give back.

Others, including local branches of large national corporations, choose to support Franklin because they want to be a positive influence on education in the New Orleans area.

Franklin has a close partnership with the Lowe’s Home Improvement Store on Elysian Fields, which gives the school a discount on items such as wood for play scenery, and helps out with other projects.
“They’re a wonderful partner for us,” Read says.

That relationship helped Franklin garner $91,000 to put toward renovation of the school cafeteria. The money comes from Lowe’s national headquarters, but to be eligible a school must have a local Lowe’s as a partner.

Other companies pitching in include The Munch Factory, an alumni-owned restaurant, and Café Degas, both of which donate food and gift certificates; Capital One Bank, whose $10,000 gift went toward Advanced Placement classes; and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, which gave mini-grants to help such projects as the science Olympiad. Often, corporate gifts are multiplied by challenge grants, Read says. In all, corporate giving is so important to Franklin that the school lists its sponsors on its webpage.

Franklin and many other “good causes” in the New Orleans area depend on the generosity of businesses large and small to achieve their goals. Raising those dollars isn’t always easy, nonprofits say; New Orleans doesn’t have the corporate lineup of Houston or Atlanta. But an organization with a well-defined mission, a way to track outcomes and the ability to use company volunteers wisely will find success soliciting support. On the flip side, even the best of causes may founder if they approach businesses with little more than outstretched hands.

Accountability, compatibility

The bond between donor and recipient can be built in several different ways, says Josephine Everly, senior development officer for the Greater New Orleans Foundation. Direct giving, matching gifts, volunteerism and in-kind donations make up one sector of giving. These gifts are highly dependent on a company’s profits and can vary widely from year to year.

In other cases, the company endows a foundation, which makes donations in keeping with the interest of the company. This type of gift is more consistent because it depends less on year-to-year profits.

Today, Everly says, corporations often prefer to give fewer but larger gifts, so that their dollars have more of an impact. They also like to tie the cause in with their mission. For example, in the past a bank might marshal employees to volunteer by painting houses or removing litter. Now, those same volunteers might donate their time toward helping needy people in the community set up bank accounts or draw up budgets.

Donors also focus on results, Everly says. “They want to see outcomes.” If their employees volunteer, companies expect those workers to have a positive experience, and they follow up to make sure donated time and/or money went for a worthy cause.
Corporations are important to the quality of life in New Orleans, Everly points out.

“Business has a critical role to play in affecting systemic change,” she says.

Many companies are willing to step up to the plate, but the nonprofits that approach them need to have well thought out plans of action, and they should be able to show a past history of success. In philanthropy, as in business, companies want to see return on investment, Everly says.

Willing to Help

Corporate GivingHibernia Bank, which only recently became a full-fledged community bank, is just beginning to generate a revenue stream that allows for corporate giving, says A. Peyton Bush III, president and CEO. To date, the bank has concentrated on one main organization, WRBH, Radio for the Blind and Print Handicapped. The cause has special meaning to the bank, he says, because its chairman lost his sight at a young age. The bank also makes a small amount of dollars available for soft-second mortgages.

As the bank grows, more causes will be added to its philanthropic roster, Bush says. But for now, he sees it as more effective to give strong support to one charity rather than make many token donations.

IBERIABANK, says Karl Hoefer, president for Louisiana, has been able to take on a multitude of causes. The bank encourages its bankers to serve on boards for a variety of nonprofits, and in turn supports these organizations with donations of money and time. The banker/board members are also able to offer nonprofits the benefit of their counsel and advice in the financial field.

“We are able to paint a broad picture with a bigger brush,” says Margaret Beer, who handles community relations for IBERIABANK. Among the recipients of the bank’s philanthropy are the New Orleans Ballet Association, New Orleans Museum of Art, the National World War II Museum and the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

But education is perhaps the bank’s primary focus, Beer says. In keeping with its mission, the bank underwrites financial literacy programs at area local charter grammar and high schools.

Fidelity Homestead annually allocates a certain percentage of its budget for philanthropy, says Robert Baer, vice president of innovation and development. Employees help to identify causes, generally in the fields of arts and culture, education, environment and the homebuilding industry. Fidelity contributes to groups in all sections of the metro area; its efforts include providing educational classes for consumers on financing renovation or purchase of a home.

Bearing Fruit

Local nonprofits say these donations, and many like them, are the only way they could offer the many services they provide. For the New Orleans Ballet Association, corporate giving is extremely important, says Executive Director Jenny Hamilton.

Each year NOBA funds thousands of free dance classes in locations around the city. Thanks to Chevron, one of the ballet’s major donors, NOBA is also able to bring in experts from all over the country to work with local young dancers. Hamilton, who has been with NOBA for 20 years, says she’s seen budding ballerinas take classes from first through twelfth grades. Even if they don’t eventually become professional dancers, the discipline and attention to physical fitness they’ve developed will stand them in good stead.

Philanthropy also allows NOBA to commission works of art and to offer dance fitness classes for senior citizens, Hamilton says. In kind donations also help; the Sheraton New Orleans, for example, houses dance teachers who come to New Orleans for NOBA programs.
Hamilton and others say garnering donations has been a little more difficult since Hurricane Katrina slammed the city. Right after the hurricane, donations actually ballooned, says Christine Hoffman, who directs corporate foundation and research relations for Tulane University. But many of these donors made it clear their gifts were one-time gifts meant to aid in recovery.

Now, Hoffman says, Tulane and others have to figure out ways to build long-term relationships with businesses.

“We have to seek other support,” she says. “Tuition does not cover the cost of educating our students.” One way Tulane tries to appeal is by demonstrating how research done at the college might benefit a business’s research and development efforts.

Corporations seldom donate all of the money to build a dormitory or classroom building, Hoffman says. That type of money usually comes from foundations. But companies often sponsor areas within these buildings, such as suites or auditoriums. Tulane is in the process of raising $75 million for its new football stadium. It will be named Yulman stadium, after major donors Janet and Richard Yulman, but many local donors, such as IBERIABANK, will receive recognition for their donations.

Corporations also help with scholarships, guest lectors and internships, Hoffman says. In turn, Tulane requires its graduates to perform public service. The college shies away from fundraising galas and balls, she says. “There are so many other social activities in our community.”

Brooke Minto is relatively new to her job as deputy director for development and external affairs at the New Orleans Museum of Art. One of the things that has pleased her most is to see how invested New Orleanians are in their art museum.

NOMA has recently formed a new business council that includes both local and national companies. Companies that offer NOMA support receive passes or family memberships for their employees, helping to build the relationship between business and the museum.
Chevron, one of NOMA’s key partners, likes to participate in family programs. It sponsors “Friday Nights at NOMA,” during which the museum remains open until 9 p.m. and targets art activities to kids while parents browse the galleries.

Corporate GivingIBERIABANK and Whitney Bank sponsor NOMA’s two major fundraisers, the “Odyssey Ball” and “Art in Bloom,” respectively. Sometimes corporations underwrite specific exhibits. Liberty Bank & Trust, for example, sponsored a gala and exhibit honoring Leah Chase. Companies donating volunteer labor include Corporate Realty, whose employees did a cleanup of The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden.

Corporate giving will continue to be important to New Orleans area nonprofits, GNOF’s Everly says. “We do have tremendous needs,” she says, citing the city’s large wealth disparities. Organizations that succeed in bringing home the dollars will be those that establish firm relationships with business, and those that can show companies why donating to them will burnish their company image.