For almost 50 years, the Melwood Horticultural Training Center has based its fundraising model around vehicle donations. But with the still-sluggish economy causing such donations to drop off significantly, the Upper Marlboro nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities has shifted gears.
This year Melwood brought on new staff to step up its efforts in encouraging volunteerism among the corporate sector.
“We had to change our culture,” said Denise Hyater-Lindenmuth, chief development officer of Melwood. “For the longest time, Melwood has not been in the business of understanding fund development.”
The hope is that introducing corporate partners to Melwood’s mission through volunteerism will eventually lead to more direct financial support, she said.
Melwood receives only about $60,000 of its $4.8 million annual fundraising through corporate donations, but its push to increase these dollars represents the value of corporate philanthropy.
In what is historically thought of as “the season of giving,” Maryland business executives say their corporate donations are on the rise.
For some, such as Tamara Darvish of Darcars Automotive Group in Silver Spring, giving stems from a personal cause.
Darvish lost a first cousin to leukemia 13 years ago and has since hosted a golf tournament every July that raises $600,000 annually for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, she said.
“This money means more research that can lead to more advanced technology and more saved lives,” Darvish said.
Darcars’ second major cause is the National Parkinson Foundation, which receives $320,000 annually from Darcars through the company’s title sponsorship of the foundation’s Moving Day fundraiser in Washington, D.C., in the fall.
“Compared to last year, we’re doing a lot more,” said Darvish, whose father, John R. Darvish, has Parkinson’s. “We’re done a good job of getting more employees engaged in donations.”
Darcars also funds Friday night dinners and other events for wounded service members through the Aleethia Foundation. This holiday season, the company is trying to gather 6,000 pounds of donated food for the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., up from last year’s 5,353 pounds.
Grocers donating more
Corporate donations are in high demand in the Maryland region, where 93 percent of nonprofits said they viewed corporate and organizational giving as important or extremely important, according to a 2011 marketing survey by Maryland Nonprofits. But only 26 percent reported being satisfied or extremely satisfied with corporate giving.
Maryland’s nonprofit sector employs 255,408 people and pays $12 billion in total salaries. About 64 percent of the nonprofits have annual revenues of less than $25,000.
Local grocers particularly ramp up their philanthropic efforts during the holiday season.
Safeway, with Eastern region headquarters in Lanham, hosted its 13th annual Feast of Sharing for about 5,000 people at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the District this month, said spokesman Craig Muckle.
While Safeway donates $15 million locally, the company is particularly proud of the feast because it allows the company to showcase its community efforts, Muckle said.
Safeway also participates in the Help Us End Hunger bag pickup program from mid-November through the holiday season, which allows customers to buy pre-packaged bags of food that will be donated to the Capital Area Food Bank.
“We’re very consistent with what we’re doing,” Muckle said. “When people see what we’re doing, they’re eager to create partnerships to help more people.”
Giant Food in Landover has increased its donations for the year, including increasing its turkey donations to five area food banks to 1,000 each from 750 each, said spokesman Jamie Miller.
The company donated $8 million to charities last year and is on pace to exceed that, he said. Giant also donated 900 prepared holiday meals to food banks this year.
“We have developed a stronger relationship with our food bank partners. We understand the demands being placed on them and do what we can,” Miller said.
Deductions not a major driver
“Like anything else, when people have money, they’re looser with their financial contributions,” said Stuart Levine, a lawyer with a practice in Baltimore.
Corporations are allowed to deduct up to 10 percent of their taxable income for charitable donations, but this can sometimes raise questions on what qualifies as a charitable donation, Levine said.
“There’s a question over whether the deduction does what it’s intended to do,” he said.
In fact, he said, burnishing the company’s reputation may well be a bigger incentive than any tax deductions when it comes to charitable giving.
Major companies, major givers
MedImmune, a major Gaithersburg biotech, has given $2 million in charitable donations annually for the last several years, spokeswoman Claire Nakashima Nelson wrote in an email to The Gazette.
“MedImmune operates a mission-aligned philanthropy and community outreach program, thus we concentrate the majority of our funding and resources on improving healthcare and promoting science education,” Nelson said. “At the local level, we choose to support organizations that are intricately linked to the overall health and well-being of the community.”
While some companies decide which charities to support based on executives’ personal reasons, MedImmune and others take their cures from their employees.
For example, for the holidays, MedImmune matches annual employee donations made to nonprofits up to $5,000 per employee and sponsors more than 125 Maryland children in need, Nelson said. The company hosts food and gift-clothing drives.
MedImmune also began a program this year that allows employees one paid day off each year to volunteer with a nonprofit of their choice, resulting in 2,000 service hours since June.
“We believe that community outreach must take on many forms, and it must go beyond providing financial assistance,” she said, referring to MedImmune’s combination of contributions, grants and volunteerism.
Baltimore energy company Constellation, now owned by Exelon of Chicago, has committed to donating an average of $7 million to Maryland charities annually for at least 10 years as part of its deal with Exelon, spokeswoman Kelly Biemer wrote in an email to The Gazette.
Among these efforts is the company’s support for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, which collects items for disadvantaged families throughout the holiday season. Constellation employees already have adopted 900 families, Biemer said.
The company also has pledged to donate $1 to the Salvation Army Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Effort for every “like” Constellation receives on its Facebook page in December, up to $10,000.
Lockheed Martin, the Bethesda military, aerospace and information technology giant, also has chipped in to help those displaced from Hurricane Sandy, joining many companies in collecting more than $700,000 worth of toy and book donations through Toys for Tots. The Blue Angels, the Navy’s flight demonstration squadron, is to fly the donations to New Jersey on Monday, according to a Toys for Tots news release.
Stepping it up for the holidays
Clark Construction in Bethesda hosts a holiday gift program that allows each employee to select a nonprofit to receive $100 from the company, Susan Ross, executive vice president and chief administration officer, said in a statement. The company donated $130,000 through this initiative last year.
"Giving back to the communities in which we live and work is one of Clark Construction's core values,” she said.
Clark also is kicking off a new weeklong nationwide food drive at all its officers. The company also hosts an annual holiday luncheon in Bethesda dedicated to community service.
HMSHost, the Bethesda company that manages beverage, food and retail outlets for travelers, also has partnered with Interfaith Works to sponsor an Angel Tree and a coat drive, spokeswoman Sarah Cody wrote in an email to the Gazette. The company also coordinates events for breast cancer awareness, American Red Cross blood drives and the Children’s Miracle Network.