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Creative Giving

Five companies that energized employee giving with innovative initiatives, creating quantum jumps in community investment.

Employees of Huntsville firms Dynetics and Torch Technologies combined to give more than $4 million to area charities through the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County.  CEO Mark Bendickson of Dynetics, left; Community Foundation Executive Director Lynne Berry, and Torch Technologies CEO Bill Roark.

Employees of Huntsville firms Dynetics and Torch Technologies combined to give more than $4 million to area charities through the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County. CEO Mark Bendickson of Dynetics, left; Community Foundation Executive Director Lynne Berry, and Torch Technologies CEO Bill Roark.

Photo by Jeff White

Huntsville Techs Leverage Charities with ESOP Option

By Nancy Mann Jackson

When Dynetics, a Huntsville-based engineering and technology company, became fully owned by its employees earlier this year, the conversion involved 167 stockholders selling their stock back to the company to be placed in an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) trust. Forty-three employees chose to donate some of their stock to local charities through the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County. Together, they donated $3.2 million to local organizations.

CEO Mark Bendickson and his wife, Sheryl, had become involved with the Community Foundation last year as part of their own financial planning and had become strong supporters. When the ESOP opportunity came up, Bendickson learned that the Community Foundation offered the option to set up donor-advised funds in such instances, providing a way for donors to increase their contributions while offsetting tax consequences. He invited Chris Russell, a past chair of the Community Foundation board, and Lynne Berry, the Foundation’s executive director, to make a presentation to employees.

“We simply informed our stockholders about the fund as an option to consider,” Bendickson says. “There was a short window of time after the idea came up and details were worked out. I believe there would have been even more contributions if there had been more time.”

Dynetics employees had the opportunity to donate up to 20 percent of the stock they owned, and the Community Foundation sold the stock back to the company for the funds to be placed in individual donor-advised funds. Each donor could then choose the tax-exempt organization or church to which he or she wanted to donate.

“Several employees donated their full 20 percent, even some employees who did not own a large number of shares,” Bendickson says.

While the giving process is private, Bendickson believes the funds benefited a wide range of local organizations. “I would guess there were children’s organizations, hospitals, churches and others,” he says.

Launching an ESOP was an unusual situation in which a large amount of stock was being sold at once, so the Community Foundation’s donor-advised fund, which requires a minimum $10,000 donation, was a perfect option. While a $3.2 million donation is a one-time opportunity, it represents an ongoing commitment to community service for the company.

“Dynetics’ core values include the four E’s — excellence, ethics, enjoyment and enrichment,” Bendickson says. “One element of enrichment is strengthening the communities in which we live. Dynetics and our employees have always strived to make a difference. By making charitable donations in the community, we strengthen our community.  We have been blessed with the growth of the company, and this provided an opportunity to give back. It was a natural coupling with one of our values.”

Giving Quotient Multiplied by 10

Torch Technologies, a Huntsville-based defense contractor, has made giving back to the local community a core attribute. This year, as Torch became a fully employee-owned company, and employees and investors sold their stock back to the company as part of that transaction, about 20 employees and investors chose to donate some of their stock to the Community Foundation of Huntsville/Madison County. Those decisions resulted in a donation of more than $1 million in Torch Technologies stock to the Foundation, which sold the stock back to the company and donated the funds to local charities selected by the donors.

“By giving their shares directly to the Community Foundation, the employees who took advantage of this option received significant tax advantages, as well as an opportunity to help the local churches and causes they care about,” says Bill Roark, CEO. While transferring all company stock to an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan) Trust was a one-time event that allowed for a larger donation through the Community Foundation, Torch has offered similar charitable donation programs in the past, in which employees could donate stock directly to charities and the company would buy back the stock.

“Philanthropy is a key part of our organization, and this stock donation went right along with that,” Roark says.

For instance, in 2004, Torch Technologies established Torch Helps, an employee-created and employee-run charitable organization that promotes employee volunteerism and participation in events, such as Relay for Life, and awards quarterly, $10,000 grants to local charities. Each quarter, local charities submit applications for the grants, and contributing employees vote for the charity they would like to help.

Earlier this year, Torch received the Innovation Award in Corporate Giving from the National Center for Employee Ownership, for its Torch Helps program.

Before 2004, Torch Technologies employees raised money for various charity events, but success was waning. Roark challenged employees to find a solution to help make philanthropy a more strategic part of the business. The result was Torch Helps, which donated 10 times more during its first six months than the company donated during the previous three years combined. In each subsequent year, the organization has set new records for giving.

Auto Workers Heavy Lift Three Tons of Food

Faurecia employees and West Alabama Food Bank workers celebrate the company’s gift of more than 6,000 pounds of food.

By Nancy Mann Jackson

Automotive parts makers in West Alabama worked together this year to contribute more than 6,000 pounds of food and almost $300 to the West Alabama Food Bank.
Each year, Faurecia, an automotive supplier with plants in Tuscaloosa and Cottondale, invites its North American employees to participate in a community service program focused on feeding the hungry.

The company implemented the FUELS program, short for Faurecia Unites with Employees for Local Service, in 2010 “to help feed the hungry in the communities we serve, especially during such challenging economic times,” says Janet Morrison, human resources manager at the Faurecia Tuscaloosa plant. “FUELS provides food through employee donations, financial assistance from the company and volunteer hours from employees and their families to help tackle hunger.”

This year, each of Faurecia’s 45 North American sites had a goal of raising 10 pounds of nonperishable food per employee. The Tuscaloosa and Cottondale plants surpassed the goal. Employees were motivated by various incentives, including a department challenge in which Alabama football tickets and gift cards were raffled off to participants. For every 20 pounds of food donated, an employee’s name was entered into a drawing to win prizes.

Together, the Tuscaloosa and Cottondale facilities donated a total of 6,616 pounds of nonperishable food and $282 to benefit the West Alabama Food Bank this year. The West Alabama Food Bank serves seven counties in the western part of the state. Through the company-wide initiative, Faurecia donated a total of 660,000 pounds of non-perishable items to local food banks across the country. In addition, Faurecia employees and their families contributed more than 1,100 hours of service this year to its 28 food bank partners across the United States.

Since implementing the FUELS program in 2010, Faurecia has provided more than 1.3 million meals to hungry neighbors in need across North America.

For Faurecia, participating in the FUELS program and other community service is just a part of doing business.

“Companies are more than the products they make,” Morrison says. “They are citizens of their communities, providers of jobs and tax base for community growth and, above all, people who care about their colleagues and neighbors. Philanthropy is Faurecia’s way of giving back to all the people and institutions that have supported us, as well as a way to help communities grow and improve.”

Designer Food Stacking by School Kids

Design and construction team from Robert E. Lee High School won the Can Do Good competition for this duck and duckling on a pond, made from canned goods donated for the Montgomery Area Food Bank.

By Gail Allyn Short

On an October Saturday at the Shoppes at EastChase mall in Montgomery, groups of teens representing four local high schools were hard at work in a contest hosted by the architecture and engineering firm Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood. They had just three hours to build stable, intricate and creative designs using only canned goods.

Robert E. Lee High School won the contest with their replica of a duck and duckling on a pond. The contest was the fourth annual “Can Do Good Social Design Competition,” which raised nearly 11,000 canned goods and non-perishable food items for the Montgomery Area Food Bank, says Amy Bell, an architectural designer at the firm.

The privately-held, Montgomery-based firm established the contest five years ago after forming an internal fine arts and stewardship committee to brainstorm charitable projects, says Bell, the committee chairperson. The group came up with “Can Do Good,” a contest to challenge teens to use their mathematics, art and science skills, explore architecture and engineering careers and exercise social responsibility.

“It just seemed to be a natural fit to go beyond just the design base and get in, roll up our sleeves and help kids to learn,” Bell says. “It just hit on so many levels, so it was a win-win for everyone involved.”

The firm launched “Can Do Good” in 2009. To assist participating schools, Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood set up a website, designbuildeat.com, listing everything from lesson plans for teachers to helpful tips, contest rules, videos from past competitions and dates of upcoming competitions in Birmingham, Atlanta, Nashville, Mobile, Huntsville and Greenville, S.C., where the firm also has offices. Students and the firm have raised more than 33,000 pounds of food for the hungry across the Southeast, organizers say.

“Because we have so many different offices in different cities and states, we wanted an event that we could package and not be tied to one community,” says Freddie Lynn, a regional vice president for Goodwyn, Mills & Cawood.  “That’s why we didn’t choose something that would only work in Montgomery. It’s a portable charity event that we can do at any of our offices.”

Organizing “Can Do Good” takes an army of support from the community, says Bell. The community partners included companies such as Costco and the Shoppes at EastChase mall.

The mall provided space for the event and encouraged the public to join the fun by hosting a contest where people entered to win a $100 gift certificate by voting for their favorite design.

To get high school students interested in philanthropy, the firm encourages students to hold canned food drives at their school in preparation for the competition. Costco donated two pallets of canned goods to ensure that all of the schools had enough cans to compete, Bell says.

Critical to the success of the event, however, are the employees, says Lynn. Employees from nearly every department spent hours promoting, organizing and participating in the “Can Do Good” contest, Lynn says.

“We had a dozen people out there the day of the event taking their own time off from work supporting it,” says Lynn. “I think that knowing that the company supports the staff in allowing them to take time off to do this is important.”

Business leaders seeking to get involved in philanthropy, says Lynn, should target causes that they’re passionate about and that are connected with their company’s mission.

“Finding an event that is both charitable and promotes a subject and cause that we care about makes it easier for us to do this and do it consistently every year,” Lynn says. “If it can be related to your industry, that makes it even better.”

Retailer Leverages Pink Brand Loyalty

Mobile accounting firm Russell Thompson Butler & Houston LLP took top honors for fund raising in this year’s Making Strides walk, sponsored by the American Cancer Society to raise funds for breast cancer awareness and research.  The 41-person RTBH team raised $2,660, bringing their three-year total to more than $7,600.

By Gail Allyn Short

Supporting breast cancer research was a cause close to the heart of Stanley Tanger, the founder of the North Carolina-based Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc., and his wife, Doris, a breast cancer survivor, says Tom Knighten, general manager of the Tanger Outlet Center in Foley. Nineteen years ago, Tanger’s company established its first Pink Style campaign to raise money for breast cancer research.

During the campaign, from September through the end of October, customers can buy a Pink Card for a $1 donation. The cards give customers 25 percent off a single purchase made at a participating outlet store.

“This has been going on for so long that people know when it’s coming up,” says Knighten. “People will call and ask when Pink Style is going to start.”

The Stanley K. Tanger Breast Cancer Fund donates the proceeds from the Pink Card sales to the American Cancer Society Mid-South Division of Baldwin County. Money also goes to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, a nonprofit organization that funds scientific research for the prevention and cure of the disease.

“We have 55 stores that are taking these cards,” Knighten says. “They’re giving up the bottom line or profits. These stores support the cause, and that’s rare these days. These days in business everybody is all about making profits. So this is a period of time when these stores lay that aside.”
The Pink Style campaign in Foley raised $48,000 last year, Knighten says. Nationally, Tanger Outlet Centers have contributed more than $11 million for breast cancer research since 1994, organizers say.

“There is probably not one person who’s not been affected by cancer somehow,” Knighten says. “Pink Style is looked forward to each year, and we have several big groups who come in to shop us at this time from places like Louisiana, Atlanta and Birmingham. So it’s very well received.”

Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc. owns 39 upscale outlet shopping centers in 25 states across the United States and Canada. In those states, Tanger Outlet Centers have sponsored fund-raising events including charity walks, 5K races, early detection and prevention kiosks, fashion events, parties and dinners to support breast cancer research, Knighten says. The Tanger Outlets in Foley sponsors an annual American Cancer Society gala every year in nearby Fairhope.

In addition to supporting breast cancer research, many Tanger general managers have memberships with local chambers of commerce and are active in their respective communities, Knighten says.

“We just think it’s important to be a part of the community wherever we’re located.”

More examples of Alabama Generosity

Huntsville business executive William Propst and his wife, Eloise, gave $1 million to Calhoun Community College for its Huntsville campus, the largest gift in the school’s history.

Calhoun also received $10,000 from the Daniel Corp. for its developmental math program.

Verizon Wireless has presented gifts of $2,500 each to programs battling domestic violence in Opelika and Montgomery.

Click here to download a list of Alabama nonprofits. 

Nancy Mann Jackson and Gail Allyn Short are freelance writers for Business Alabama

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