A Culture of Corporate Giving

June 9, 2017 | A Culture of Corporate Giving Iowa Association of Business and Industry, eschettler@iowaabi.org

Many Iowa companies believe they have a responsibility to give back to the communities and employees who help them succeed.

In fact, more than half of Iowa executives say philanthropy plays a significant role in their company’s overall culture and vision, according to the results of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry’s (ABI) 2017 CEO survey.

“We know we have the ability to impact quality of life beyond our four walls for our employees and their families and our community at large,” said Lori Schaefer-Weaton, president of Fairfield-based Agri-Industrial Plastics and current ABI chair.

Most Iowa companies have silently given to their communities for a long time, but there’s been a generational shift to now acknowledge it as young employees want to join an organization that makes philanthropy one of its key cornerstones, Schaefer-Weaton said.

Agri-Industrial has helped its home community of 10,000 people since it was founded in 1978.

According to the survey, financial contributions are the most common way to give back (almost 79 percent), and companies’ efforts are directed toward their local communities, with about 66 percent also contributing to statewide efforts. More than half of companies also provide their employees with paid volunteer time off and give employees opportunities while at work to give back.

Agri-Industrial’s support comes in the form of time, resources, experience and dollars. Many of the company’s senior managers serve on local boards dedicated to economic development and education. Educational efforts — Project Lead the Way, the local career academy, partnerships with community colleges, the Future Business Leaders of America, assisting the local schools with math projects and field trips — receive much of Agri-Industrial’s attention.

“Our support goes much further than writing a check,” Schaefer-Weaton said.

The efforts also focus heavily on improving quality of life and wellness areas for the Fairfield community. The company helped support a new parks and recreation facility and provides memberships to its employees.

One hundred percent of employees at Strategic America have contributed to the company’s United Way campaign for the past decade.

John Schreurs, chief executive officer, said the West Des Moines advertising agency places a strong value on giving back to professional organizations that are part of its industry. It also conducts pro bono work for nonprofit organizations that need assistance with marketing development through branding and positioning.

Tecton Industries, a custom part manufacturer in Spencer, also focuses its philanthropy on supporting efforts within its industry. The company has purchased advanced manufacturing machinery including a 3-D printer for Spencer High School to replace its antiquated equipment. Afterward, the high school was rewarded for having among the most innovative shop methodologies in the country.

Last year, company President Bruce Tamisiea helped the school district learn how to raise funds to pay $9,000 for a CNC machining class and an architecture class that the budget would not support.

“I’m a huge believer that you cannot expose the student early enough,” Tamisiea, said. “We believe people can have a wonderful career in machinery and don’t necessarily have to get a four-year degree.”

The company gives a $2,000 scholarship that was initiated by donations collected by its employees to a youth who is pursuing a career in engineering or technical training. Tecton has donated toward the community’s hospital, community center, cancer center and other capital projects drives.

“I’m an advocate of paying it forward,” Tamisiea said.

The Carl A. Nelson construction firm in Burlington selects a different area charity each month to donate supplies and money toward, said Michelle Stump, marketing director for the company. The company also has a scholarship program, provides care packages to family members of employees who are deployed, and donates building supplies and employee labor for local construction projects. Many of the company’s employees also volunteer as board members and for organizations such as Rotary Club and Kiwanis.

Last year, the company awarded $4,000 in scholar - ships, and gave $14,000 to organizations and causes. Several companies’ executives say their philanthropy has evolved. Thirty percent of companies reported in the survey that their efforts have increased during the past five years.

At first, Tamisiea and his wife matched the scholarship money raised by their employees. They also donated much of their time to efforts in the community. Their and Tecton’s involvement has grown and changed through the years.

“Most anything the community gets involved with, we are either involved in the capital drive and part of the investment,” he says. “There aren’t many things that go on that we don’t participate in.”

While the company is able to contribute more, Tamis - iea has found volunteer time more difficult.

“Early on, we had no capital, so all we could volunteer was time, and as we ran out of time, all we could offer was money,” he says.

From the beginning, Sukup Manufacturing Co., in Sheffield, has given back to its employees by requiring no employee premium for the employees’ health care plan through the company. In January 2018, the company is taking its 10-year employees and their spouses to Hawaii. Sukup has done this more than six times for employees.

Sukup’s giving has grown to annual contributions to lo - cal community organizations and causes, performing arts, fundraisers for employees’ loved ones who may have an illness, large contributions to community colleges and Iowa State University, and now a global project that uses the company’s grain bins to provide housing for disaster relief areas.

Much of the Sukup family attended Iowa State, as did many of the employees in their engineering department. It has donated money toward academics, the Biorenewables and Engineering Laboratory Complex, instruments for the music program and sports facilities.

“You have to look at what you’re intentional about in business and your mission and talent,” said Emily Schmitt, corporate counsel for Sukup Manufacturing Co. and granddaughter of founders Eugene and Mary Sukup. “For us, our mission is really giving back and creating a better place than there was yesterday.”

Carl A. Nelson’s foundation was established to provide support for an employee who was diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have enough vacation time to cover his time away from work for treatments. Employees collected money to help the employee.

The foundation’s board reviews applications for scholarships and grants and oversees the employee relief fund, which helps employees in times of emergency such as a natural disaster or long-term illness.

John Deere’s founder and early company presidents planted the seeds for a give-back philosophy when they started local America Red Cross chapters and established food banks in their communities. The company’s leaders still know and believe today that their success is not only dependent upon the business they run, but upon the opportunity and responsibility to give to the communities where they live and the greater world, said Nate Clark, associate director of corporate citizenship and vice president of the John Deere Foundation.

The giving culture of John Deere focuses on three things: first, help those who feed the land; second, support the future through youth education; and third, power John Deere’s local communities to encourage more economic growth and opportunities.

A smaller portion of survey-takers, 17 percent, said their philanthropic efforts extend beyond the U.S. borders.

Sukup’s safety director was interested in building a grain bin house for himself. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, he emailed the company’s Chief Financial Officer Steve Sukup and suggested the bin homes could be an option for disaster relief housing. The company used its expertise in metal forming and fabrication to push forward with design and creation of metal Safe T homes. The homes can serve as temporary or permanent housing for disaster relief areas or areas that have no permanent housing and residents live in tents. About 240 Safe T homes have been delivered to Haiti, Peru and Kenya. Each is manufactured in the Sheffield plant.

This project is the perfect example of the company using its talents to meet its mission, and shows the willingness the company has to be open to employees’ ideas and pursue them, Schmitt said.

While some companies utilize their philanthropic efforts to recruit and retain employees, the majority of respondents (46 percent) say it’s not a top recruitment tool.

John Deere’s newest employees immediately learn about the company’s give-back culture and are invited to both see and feel their work through volunteer activities such as packing food for those in need. The company sets giving and volunteerism goals and continually looks for ways to encourage more citizenship.

“They can see with their eyes and feel with their hands the importance of giving back, and it gives them a glimpse of the enormous need that exists in our community,” Clark said. “We try to help engage John Deere employees at all levels in the company through volunteerism.”

Some of the company’s efforts and its individual volun - teers’ work are shared through the company’s publications and website. This allows prospective employees to get a glimpse of what the company is truly about, Clark said.

“Employees now want to work for a company that not only provides them with professional rewards but per - sonal rewards in terms of the impact that they can have in making the world a better place,” he said.

Schaefer-Weaton said newer employees often want to know what the company’s purpose is and what it’s doing for the community.

“It helps solidify us as that employer of choice in a small town because they know we’re active,” she said.

The majority of companies report that their executive team makes the decision on where the company’s money goes.

Sukup supports efforts that stem from a variety of ideas from employees to its family-member board of directors. As the company has grown, Schmitt said there will likely need to become a more formal process when deciding which organizations and causes Sukup will support.

A group of volunteer employees has always made decisions about how Tecton addresses items — from its retirement plans to where it donates money. Tamisiea only votes if there is a tie.

Employees also play a role in where John Deere’s charitable funds land. The company has a citizenship team and foundation that operate independently to meet the company’s goals, but it also gives money to registered nonprofit groups and philanthropic efforts in which its employees are involved.

Strategic America also supports causes its employees believe in.

“If it’s a need and we feel that the organization is well run, it supports our culture of giving back,” Schreurs said.