METRO Business Journal: Bakersfield ChamberofCommerce

Align Giving with Company Values

Start with what you care about and the issues that align with your company’s values.

That’s the advice that Susan Hersberger, Aera Energy’s public affairs director, and Jeff Pickering, CEO of the Kern Community Foundation, dispensed to the Good Morning Bakersfield breakfast attendees on being socially responsible and handling the hundreds of funding requests coming across the desks of local companies on any given day.

Working their way through a series of prepared questions, Hersberger and Pickering shared with the group how to make their contributions meaningful, the correlation between social responsibility and the bottom line, how to set funding priorities and some of the unique giving programs in the community.

“We get so many requests that it is hard to know what to fund and I am the only one reviewing all the requests.” said Ed Ott, president and CEO of Braun Electric Company, following the breakfast. “I came to find out how I can manage all the requests we get. It can be overwhelming,” he added, echoing a sentiment of many others in attendance.

Pickering encouraged companies to set expectations about the amount of time and money they would be investing as part of a giving program and to do careful planning up front. He also suggested piloting new programs on a small scale with customers first and cited Lightspeed System’s Amazing Giving Program that has helped that company corral all of the requests they receive each year from across the country.

According to Pickering, many companies are using the corporate giving cards, available through the foundation, as a way of supporting causes important to their employees and thanking them for their contributions to the company.

Hersberger shared the importance of engaging in the community with a strategic vision of your business in mind and noted when you do “the return is priceless.” She pointed to Aera’s focus on health, safety and workforce development through education and shared how the company partnered with California State University Bakersfield and other companies to fund an occupational health program to fill positions they will have open in the company. She also shared how the company initiated Ready to Learn, a pre-K program that helped prepare children to enter kindergarten, explaining that learning how to read and learn in school is ‘pre-STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and math) and provides the earliest foundation for the STEM  education so critical in the oil industry.

“This was really good information,” said Leslie Golich, who as public affairs director  for Kaiser Permanente oversees much of the company’s annual giving in Kern County. “It’s really important to have a funding focus because it helps provide clarity when difficult decisions must be made about what programs to fund.”