I just got home from attending the Denver Business Journal’s 1st annual Partners in Philanthropy event held in the Pinnacle Club at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Denver.  They had a great crowd in attendance which says a lot about the heightened awareness of business and nonprofit connections given our current economic times. 

The first breakout session I attended was “It Pays to Give” with Andy Boian – Dovetail Solutions (moderator), and panelists Rob Cohen – IMA Financial Group, Scott King – ReadyTalk, and Monique Lovato – Xcel Energy Foundation.  It was interesting to hear the differences in focus between the three based on publically versus privately held companies and the oversight involved with regard to their community involvement activities, as well as the differences that are more related to business size.

ReadyTalk was the smallest company represented.  Scott King mentioned they currently have 92 employees and $20 million in revenues – clearly WAY bigger than my company!!  They still view themselves as a young company and have included community involvement from start-up on – wanting to foster a culture of giving and community connection for the business.  ReadyTalk, based on the vision and values of the King brothers, Scott and Dave, is strongly committed to getting their employees directly involved in the community and in fact consider their philanthropic efforts an employee-based program.  Employees present proposals for nonprofit support to an internal committee of their peers that then selects which nonprofits the company will support with cash and services.  Scott mentioned they do not calculate an ROI as giving back is “just the right thing to do” though he has noticed  a strong connection between employee satisfaction and pride in their company and customer satisfaction.  I went to the ReadyTalk website a few minutes ago to learn more…but there is no section on their website that I could find that shares this information externally.  Anyway…they have captured my attention and I am considering changing my web training service to ReadyTalk as my small way of supporting their philanthropic and community involvement efforts.

IMA Financial Group was the medium size business in the group at 511 employees with $1 billion in sales.  Rob Cohen, Chairman and CEO, explained that to the consternation of some business advisors early on, he included a focus on giving back and community invovlement from day one of the company.  To this end, early employee contracts mandated giving back and he created a foundation “on Day One” as well feeling that it was important to build the discipline to give a percentage from the beginning instead of waiting until later when it could be harder due to the larger numbers involved.  IMA has just hired the first Executive Director for the Foundation to continue focusing its efforts to insure the greatest impact.  IMA also selects projects for employee involvement via a Community Action Committee comprised of employees.  Rob emphasized the need to get involved “for the right reasons” otherwise everyone will see through that; it is important to be passionate and really care about the cause(s) the business supports.  While business value is not a motivator in and of itself for IMA, Rob feels their authenticity in giving and being involved has resulted in business coming their way.  IMA did have a community page on their website which gives a paragraph of their philosophy but no details of who they support.

Xcel Energy Foundation respresented the largest and only publically held company on the panel.  Monique Lovato mentioned Xcel has 12,000 employees and 8,000 retirees in 8 states and their Foundation is the largest corporate giver in Colorado.  Xcel Energy focuses mosty of its philanthropy in four areas: education, the environment, economic self-sufficiency, and equal access to the Arts.  Monique explained that Xcel prefers building relationships “with tentacles” or multiple points of engagement as opposed to just writing a check. Xcel makes use of their extensive intranet system to inform employees of opportunities for volunteering.  Xcel matches employee time with dollars and if 6 or more employees volunteer in a group, the nonprofit gets an additional $500 from Xcel.  Xcel also does matching gifts up to $750/year and their employees participate in the United Way campaign, as well. Xcel has several pages on their website about their community involvement.

Great panel and great work!!  Well done all three companies!