Private businesses can be good citizens, too
Story by Jeffrey Decker
Benjamin Franklin got it right: “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation and only one bad one to lose it.”
Protecting long-term business relationships drives a multi-billion dollar corporate citizenship industry, but smaller corporations rooted in northeast Wisconsin tend to do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Returns and rewards are appreciated in schools and homes, and recent research again confirms kindness and responsibility help the company itself.
“We live here year-round. We give back to the community,” says Tim Galloway, CEO of Galloway Company in Neenah. “We, and the rest of the corporate community, can make our whole community better. If we do that, we’re going to be stronger, we’re going to be healthier, we’re going to be happier.” Galloway’s 80 employees supply food and beverage manufacturers with dairy ingredients, and Galloway said the third-generation family-owned business makes its strongest impact by treating those employees well.
“Our wages are good. It’s a union workforce,” he says, but being a good boss is only part of it.
“There are people in our communities, oftentimes through no fault of their own, having challenges meeting the daily necessities of life.”
How strong profits are each year impacts how much they donate that year to the arts and youth sectors, domestic abuse prevention, and family support. Employee contributions come from paychecks, but also from time and effort.
“Our people know they are allowed time during the day to work on their outside civic or charitable activities,” Galloway explains, which can be serving on civic committees or campaigns. For management, it’s not just allowed, it’s expected, Galloway notes. And it’s a priority, he thinks, that makes his family’s company more attractive to new recruits, “clearly demonstrating that the company does live its values.”
Such support and expectations make it easier for others to follow. A one-day event each year is all Galloway Company needs to have been a platinum supporter of the annual United Way Fox Cities campaign over the last 15 years. They don’t need to be on the banners and buttons since they don’t need public awareness of their products. Consumers never directly buy the ingredients they eat in another manufacturer’s dairy products.
“We’re not a big supporter of advertising with our name on it. We really don’t care if our name gets out there at all,” Galloway noted.
Raising a profile
That’s rare, says Katherine Smith, executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.
“Companies with higher brand value and corporate reputation ratings have higher market-to-book ratios than companies with lower ratings,” she explains. According to a recent study authored by Institutional Shareholder Services Inc., when asked why they prioritize good corporate citizenship, 71 percent of companies put “enhanced reputation” in their top three reasons, and 45 percent listed employee retention in the top three.
“Investors are hungrier than ever for environmental, social, and governance information,” Smith continues, “If not because they are making values-driven investments, then because they increasingly see this practice as a proxy for good management.”
In a more specific examination, environmental performance reputation was found to be important for investment activity. Exclusive of philanthropy, the dollars spent by American companies on their citizenship programs rose 25 percent between 2010 and 2013, she says.
“In 2013, 97 percent of companies reported having an operating budget dedicated to corporate citizenship,” she says. The focus, she says, is “the combination of how your company exercises its rights, privileges, obligations, and responsibilities – throughout all of its operations.”
It can be assumed that investors might not reward good behavior, “But they are likely to punish for bad behavior,” Smith explains, adding, “Their reputation could act as insurance during a negative event.”
Good for morale
If something goes wrong at RGL, CEO Bob Johnson knows employees will alert him immediately.
“Being a good company really does start with how we treat our people. I believe that really does have the biggest impact on the community,” he states. “We live out our people vision which, simply stated, that our people go home safe, healthy and fulfilled.”
Safety at its warehouses in Neenah and the shipping operations based out of Green Bay earned the Wisconsin Safety Council’s recognition in 2012 and 2013. Acuity insurance praises RGL, too, with its Safe Truck Driving Award. “We’ve been selected five years in a row as one of a handful of carriers who get that award,” Johnson affirms.
When the Leicht family founded the company 111 years ago, Johnson says they started a strong tradition of giving back.
“The Green Bay and Fox Valley areas have been very good to us,” he says, “We’ve gotten a lot of benefits from the school system, the infrastructure, the government and organizations. We not only work here, we live here. We raise our families here, so we’re committed to being involved.”
An ongoing focus is the Ben’s Wish Foundation, making sure Brown County youth have nutritious food over the weekend, where there is no school lunch to depend on. Among many other noble causes, RGL supports United Way each year by donating storage space.
Mid-States Aluminum Corp. focuses all of its donations in Fond du Lac County. Further guidelines steer donations toward the youth and underprivileged, says Sue Roettger, vice president of human resources for the aluminum parts extruder in Fond du Lac.
“We have the yearly fundraising for United Way, teams that participate in activities such as Relay for Life, Big Brother/Big Sister bowling and Habitat for Humanity, along with food collections, Christmas gift collections, toiletry collections, and school supply collections on site,” she elaborates. “Many of our people volunteer their own time but they also volunteer during company time for the United Way, on various boards, such as Fond du Lac Area Foundation, UW Fond du Lac Foundation, YMCA Board of Directors, Moraine Park Technical College Board of Directors, and many, many more activities.”
Roettger says donations by employees to a 501(c)(3) charity are matched up to $250, and she helps make those decisions as a member of the Mid-States Aluminum Foundation. The company’s annual targets for charitable giving have gone up each year, and been met each year without fail.
Every bit helps
Fond du Lac Area United Way Executive Director Tina Potter says 34 percent of the organization’s 2013 donations came from corporate giving. “That was nearly $253,000,” she adds. Starting with Mercury Marine and Agnesian Health Care, the top ten corporate donors gave 23 percent of the total.
Potter’s glad to help them have the biggest impact, identifying which of the 25 organizations they support with those donations have the greatest need. A “community assessment” does just that.
“Under ‘Building a Healthy Community’ for the United Way, we fund a dental program for lower income children. We did not support that program as an allocation, but it did come out as a priority when we did the assessment, as did homelessness. So, consequently we support homeless assistance programs,” Potter explains.
Potter helps make giving easier, too, “by stepping my foot into the door and convincing a corporation to set up an employee payroll donation plan,” she says. “That takes time. Companies are busy. It starts at the top.”
Oshkosh Area United Way Executive Director Sue Panek agrees that backing a charitable decision with a little bookkeeping is extremely helpful. Employees trust management to find and run an important campaign, just as management trusts United Way to make each dollar count most.
Panek explains, “We ask them if we can run an employee campaign, which is a very easy way to give. It comes out of their check each pay period, and all of the bookkeeping is done by their company.”
As ever, hard work is needed as much as money. “Companies like US Bank, 4imprint, Bemis, all allow their employees, not only to give, but also to take time off work to volunteer,” she adds.
She points to the UPS trucks and drivers collecting each year for the Oshkosh Community Back to School Fair, with clothing and school supplies donated by customers in the Shopko parking lot. At school, UPS employees return to guide parents through the fair to find much-needed school supplies for their children.
“If you’re looking at what makes a good corporate citizen, it’s how they can have a positive impact on the community, but also something that fits their corporate culture.” It’s an entrenched concept that renews.
“We are breeding good corporate citizens,” Panek explains, highlighting five years of free tax preparation by students of the UW Oshkosh College of Business on Saturday mornings during tax season. “Because of that, we’ve been able to help individuals receive $1.6 million in refunds. That’s at no cost to the individuals, and sometimes those returns cost as much as $400!”
There’s always more that can be done and not everyone is as supportive as might be hoped. But Potter says she has yet to find a business in the Fond du Lac area that never supports any charitable cause.
“There have been times when I thought that myself, but then I find out they gave $10,000 to the school district!” she exclaims.
Jeffrey Decker is a business journalist and father based in Oshkosh.