For a growing number of companies, giving back is integral to their corporate culture. Their efforts help spur morale, facilitate team-building and provide invaluable resources and services to those in need in the region and throughout the world.
The Orange County portrayed in the media is a land of multimillion-dollar homes and six-figure salaries. But in reality, the county is a region of contrast, where a significant number of citizens struggle to feed and house their families. This economic chasm has continued to increase since the recession began.
The widespread disparity between the affluent and those in need was highlighted in a recent study commissioned by the Orange County Community Foundation (OCCF). Among its more sobering findings:
> Almost half (45 percent) of Orange County’s K-12 students live in families that earn $40,000 or less per year.
> Someone earning minimum wage would have to work 133 hours per week – the equivalent of more than three full-time jobs – to afford a one-bedroom apartment, based on the average rent.
> One in three Orange County residents lacks access to essential healthcare services.
> Only 55 percent of Orange County’s third-graders read at a proficient level.
Shelley Hoss, CEO of the OCCF, says that many of the findings surprised her, even though she has been working in the nonprofit sector for 26 years.
“Some of these numbers are stunning to me still,” she says. “It is the magnitude, the sheer volume of need. How can we have one in five children facing hunger in Orange County? That’s unimaginable.”
“We often think of Orange County as one of the best places on earth to live, yet there are deep needs in our community that are not well known,” says Michael A. Mussallem, CEO of Edwards Lifesciences. “It’s time to expose those deficiencies and address them head-on.”
The OCCF’s report is a call to action for corporations and individuals to do more to protect the county’s more vulnerable citizens. Across the spectrum of nonprofit organizations located in Orange County, professionals agree that corporate giving plays a vital role in their work to help the community.
Orange County United Way, which in 2012 facilitated aid to more than 160,000 people, could not exist without its partners in the business world. Eighty percent of its dollars raised comes through its workplace campaigns, says Brie Griset Smith, the nonprofit’s vice president of development.
“Giving back really is the right thing to do. We all come under the same big tent,” Smith says. “We alone cannot end childhood homelessness, but we can move the needle. We all care, and we all want to make a better community.”
Companies that invest in their communities through philanthropy can reap benefits themselves, especially in the area of employee morale.
Sam Murray, CEO of ManagEase Inc., an Irvine company that offers human resource services for both nonprofit and for-profit companies, says that employees today “want to be proud of who they work for.”
While many companies encourage employees to volunteer on their own time, others go a step further by giving employees a paid day off whenever they volunteer for a cause that they value.
“That is a place where other companies should aspire to be,” Murray says.
Irvine-based Edwards Lifesciences is a global leader in the production of heart valves and hemodynamic (blood flow) monitoring. In 2004, the company established the Edwards Lifesciences Fund, which finances grants to charitable organizations that focus on cardiovascular disease, education and the community where its employees live and work.
In 2012, the company awarded nearly 90 grants toward cardiovascular research and health, from support of national groups like the American Heart Association (AHA), to cutting-edge research at UCI’s Edwards Lifesciences Center, to a program at Hoag Hospital that offers free heart valve screenings. It has also committed $1.2 million toward an effort with the AHA to build the first-of-its-kind digital resource for patients who have problems with heart valves.
Stressing its philanthropic efforts in cardiovascular disease is a natural fit for Edwards Lifesciences, says its chairman and CEO, Michael A. Mussallem. In addition to funding research, the company supports direct care, such as surgical missions to China, Nicaragua and the Caribbean, to perform pediatric cardiac surgeries. The company also promotes efforts to teach local cardiac surgeons and caregivers advanced skills to better treat cardiovascular disease.
“As a global leader in heart valves, we are passionate about – and focus our philanthropy on – helping people suffering from cardiovascular disease,” says Mussallem. “I encourage others to find their own personal philanthropic mission and pursue it with passion.”
Edwards also makes a concerted effort to invest in the communities where its employees live. In 2012, about $1.2 million of its almost $5 million in charitable giving was invested in O.C., says Amanda Fowler, executive director of the firm’s Global Corporate Giving department.
Edwards is the founding investor of the United Way’s education initiative, Destination Graduation, which helps at-risk students from 11 different Orange County schools prepare for college. Edwards gave $50,000 in 2012 toward this effort, and its employees also raised an additional $235,000 for the United Way.
The company also provides opportunities for employees to give back through events such as American Red Cross blood drives, Habitat for Humanity homebuilding efforts, beach cleanups, and work at soup kitchens and homeless shelters.
“Edwards has a rich culture of helping people, and I am particularly proud of our employees who volunteer their personal time and resources to strengthen our communities,” Mussallem says. “Not only are they making our neighborhoods a better place to live, they are also enriching and enhancing their own lives.”
PIMCO, a Newport Beach-based global investment firm, has a long history of providing philanthropic support in Orange County and beyond, often flying under the radar when it comes to recognition.
Giving back seems to be infused in the company spirit, and not just among its leaders (co-founder Bill Gross and his wife, Sue Gross, are two of Orange County’s most prominent philanthropists). Sixty-one percent of its employees participated in volunteer work in 2012. The company even schedules a week of “extreme volunteering” each summer: Employees can participate in volunteer events at its Newport Beach, New York, London and Tokyo offices.
“Giving back is in our corporate DNA,” says Sarah Middleton, executive director of the PIMCO Foundation.
The company established the foundation in 2000 to offer charitable grants, and added its volunteer program in 2007. The organization’s mission is to empower people globally, concentrating much of its giving on education, economic instability, homelessness, food shortages, workforce development and veterans’ assistance.
Last December, for example, PIMCO employees in Newport Beach gathered 621 volunteers and packed 10,000 boxes of food for the Orange County Food Bank.
The company has a 15-person committee that meets monthly and builds its calendar of volunteer events.
In 2012, the PIMCO Foundation funded 23 organizations to the tune of $810,000, including Orange County grants to Human Options, the Boys and Girls Club of Santa Ana, The Wooden Floor, the Orange Coast Interfaith Shelter and Breakthrough San Juan Capistrano, among others. It also spent an additional $405,000
to match financial gifts to nonprofits made by its employees.
Middleton says the company not only provides funding, it helps its employees find opportunities to share their skills as volunteers. For example, PIMCO employees created a 13-week course called Tools for Tomorrow to teach financial literacy to young adults. And veterans working at PIMCO created a program for troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan to help them apply their military knowledge and experience to civilian jobs.
“We do feel like our employees are so talented and knowledgeable, we should be putting our skills to use as volunteers,” Middleton says.
At Irvine-based hard-drive manufacturer Western Digital, 2012 was a banner year for community giving. Led by its recently retired CEO, John Coyne, the company and its employees raised $1 million for Orange County United Way’s LIVE UNITED Workplace Campaign. No company had raised such an amount in a single year in more than a decade.
“Especially in the current economic climate, we know that money is just critical,” says Rose Krupp, director of the WD Foundation, Western Digital’s charitable organization. “We decided to partner with the United Way because they are able to guide and assist us, and we know they’ve vetted the organizations they support.”
Western Digital was also honored as the top fundraising team for United Way’s WALK UNITED, bringing in more than $20,000. Alfred Garcia, a Western Digital employee, received the top individual fundraiser award at the event.
The WD Foundation, established in 1997, helps to provide basic needs and supports education and community programs in the counties where its employees live. It gives a special emphasis on STEM programs (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and computer literacy. In Orange County, it supports food banks and the Mercy House, the cold-weather shelter program for the homeless. Western Digital employees sit on the grant-making committees and decide which organizations most deserve their support.
“Our philosophy is to give a hand up, not a hand out,” Krupp says. “There’s just an expectation with the company that we have a responsibility to give back, especially to the communities where our employees live and work.”
The firm’s employee volunteer group, Team WD, is active in the community, sorting food donations for hungry families, collecting prom dresses for low-income girls, and helping plant a school garden in San Juan Capistrano, among other efforts.
A group of employees also initiated a popular Adopt-a-Soldier program to send care packages to military personnel overseas. Employees fill the boxes, and the WD Foundation covers the cost of postage. Often those packages include Western Digital hard drives for troops to use as digital storage for movies and family photos, Krupp says.
“It’s human nature. People want to help. The volunteering does a lot for our employee morale,” Krupp says. “It does not have to be a huge financial commitment. There’s a lot to be said for people power.”
The tradition of giving back at BJ’s Restaurants is evident to customers who open their menus. The company donates a portion of its Pizookie dessert sales to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and holds fundraisers for the organization in conjunction with new restaurant openings.
BJ’s began its partnership with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation more than two decades ago, since one of its founders suffers from the disease. In the last 20 years, the company has raised more than $5 million to help fund the cause.
But cystic fibrosis is far from the only need that the BJ’s Foundation is working to address. The company runs an award-winning program called the TASC Force (Team Action to Support Communities); employee volunteers work together on a variety of service projects that help those in need in each restaurant’s respective community.
TASC Force teams have assisted the Special Olympics, worked in food banks, cleaned up beaches, parks and school grounds, and built Habitat for Humanity homes and playgrounds. They have donated tips to buy holiday gifts for foster children, hosted a Make-A-Wish party for a young cancer patient and honored fallen police and firefighters with an annual tribute.
Companies can’t force employees to volunteer, but they can provide a support system to encourage it, says Rob DeLiema, president of the BJ’s Foundation. The restaurant chain provides pins, T-shirts and caps to its TASC Force volunteers, for example. In conjunction with volunteer events, BJ’s donates food and beverages to feed volunteers then follows up with cash grants to the benefiting organization. In 2012, the BJ’s Foundation offered financial support to 70 different charities chosen by employees.
The average worker at BJ’s is in his or her 20s. Younger workers seem especially interested in giving back to their communities through volunteerism, DeLiema says.
“There’s just this social consciousness that many young adults have these days,” he says. “Our volunteers do it because they genuinely want to give back. And they like to get together as a team. We just do it because it’s the right thing to do.”
RUTAN & TUCKER
Rutan & Tucker, the largest full-service law firm based in Orange County, has a storied history in the region. Its founder, A.W.
Rutan, opened his first law office in 1906, and the firm has a long tradition of giving back to the community, from doing pro bono work to its support of more than 200 charitable programs and philanthropic efforts in California.
“We have had an arm in the making of Orange County, and we want to keep our community ties as strong as possible,” says Cynthia Kaiser, the firm’s marketing director. “Rutan & Tucker is very aware and concerned about the challenges that face our community.”
A majority of its 150 attorneys are involved with volunteerism; many serve on the boards of local charities, which the firm further helps support through direct contributions and sponsorship of events. In 2012, the law firm awarded holiday grants to Laura’s House, Goodwill Industries and Olive Crest.
Rutan & Tucker serves as counsel to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and sponsors a summer program that introduces the arts to at-risk children from juvenile hall. Another client is OneOC, formerly known as the Volunteer Center of Orange County.
Partners like Alejandro Angulo say they are heartened to work for a firm that supports its philanthropic interests. He serves on the board of The SMART Foundation, a local nonprofit working to promote music education for all students. Angulo also plays bass in a jazz band made up of executives – including a sitting judge; the group raises money for charitable causes.
“We really believe that creativity makes a better engineer, lawyer or doctor,” Angulo says. “Solving problems requires someone to have imagination.”