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Looking for Philanthropic Leaders in NC

Bank of America and SAS develop innovative approaches in corporate philanthropy

We are fortunate to live in a state that has a rich philanthropic history. Perhaps it is because we are in “God’s country” and are taught as youngsters to share with those less fortunate or it could be that North Carolina knows corporate philanthropy is just good business. For years companies have provided funding, volunteers, and in-kind resources to support education, health care, and a myriad of other causes with varied levels of effectiveness.

Today, corporate philanthropy is a critical part of North Carolina’s success in meeting the needs of millions of citizens and a few companies are taking bold new directions in their philanthropic efforts. Two leaders in North Carolina are Bank of America, headquartered in Charlotte, and SAS, based in Cary.

The Bank of America Foundation has one of the largest philanthropic budgets in the United States. It contributed more than $108 million in 2004.

“The mission of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation is to make a noticeable difference in the communities we serve by identifying local priorities and consistently delivering financial and human resources to address those challenges in order to build Neighborhood Excellence and reflect Bank of America’s commitment to Higher Standards,” said Andrew Plepler, president of Bank of America Charitable Foundation. Plepler and CEO Ken Thompson said that they believe that strong neighborhoods are the key to prosperity and that they intend to invest heavily in that belief.

In 2005, Bank of America will launch a $1.5 billion, 10-year Neighborhood Excellence Initiative. There are three significant components to the effort, starting with the Neighborhood Builders program. Nonprofit organizations play critical roles from disaster relief to education to health care. Many basic needs would not be met without this important sector in our communities.

Neighborhood Builders will invest $100,000 a year for two years to help crucial nonprofits build organizational capacity. In addition, Neighborhood Builders will provide professional leadership development to ensure long-term sustainability and effectiveness of the organization.

The second component of the plan aptly named “local heroes” will honor people working within communities to make a difference and, one hopes, inspire others to emulate these heroes. A contribution of $5,000 will be made to the charity of the winner’s choice. The final component, “student leaders,” invests in tomorrow. “Education and opportunities for young people are critical to building vibrant communities,” Plepler said. “Building the next generation of neighborhood leaders is vital to the long-term health of this country.”

The student leaders program will provide young people paid internships to work in nonprofit organizations so they will understand the vital role the nonprofits play in a community. Many philanthropic efforts focus understandably on immediate community needs with little thought about the future — Bank of America is changing the paradigm. The Neighborhood Excellence Initiative meets today’s most pressing needs and at the same cultivates tomorrow’s leaders to take care of emerging needs and keeping communities strong. The first recipients of the Neighborhood Excellence Fund Awards were announced Oct. 15, 2004.

Across the state in Cary, SAS continues to be one of North Carolina’s most generous corporate philanthropists. While SAS supports numerous causes, its primary philanthropic focus, education, is a longtime passion of its founders. Just as SAS leads the way in technological revolutions, it also revolutionizes philanthropic efforts. Understanding that partnerships are a critical element of success in community development, SAS has formed several high-profile and effective alliances, including the SAS Championship presented by Forbes.

The Champions Tour event’s economic impact is obvious, as it has pumped more than $10 million into the Triangle community, but its philanthropic impact is also significant. Knowing that Champions Tour events include a charity partner, SAS leaders went to the Triangle Community Foundation for guidance in identifying a charity that would reflect the priorities and values of the company and Communities In Schools of Wake County was selected.

The mission of CIS is to champion the connection of needed community resources with schools and community sites to help young people successfully learn, stay in school, and prepare for life. Working together, SAS and CIS opened the SAS Community Learning Center in the Kentwood pubic housing community in October 2002. SAS Championship tournament proceeds provided the funding for construction of the facility as well as CIS programming.

For the 89 families who live in Kentwood, the Learning Center provides access to educational tools they would otherwise not have available. “The center is important because the students have a place to go that is safe and that can help them with their schoolwork,” said Tony Thorton, Kentwood Center director. “It is also a great resource for the adults who search for jobs and work on their resumes in the center’s computer lab.”

Programming at the SAS Community Learning Center includes after-school tutorials for K-12 students that focus on core skills in reading, writing, and mathematics; preschool classes, computer training classes for adults, and countless others. The students who attend see the center as “their center” and take part in efforts to maintain and help beautify the center. The surrounding community has also embraced the Learning Center and its important role for the Kentwood families. Working in conjunction with Davis Drive Elementary, CIS hosts “lunch and learn” sessions with parents and school personnel to ensure students succeed in school. The faith community is also an important partner. Triangle Vineyard Christian Center recently held a yard sale with the proceeds benefiting the center.

The SAS Community Learning Center has received a lot of local and national attention. Recently CIS was named the “Champions Tour charity of the year,” which brought an additional $25,000 in funding to support the facility. By creating this high-profile partnership between the Champions Tour, the Triangle Community Foundation, CIS, and their company, SAS has ensured that a high-risk neighborhood has the resources it needs to educate young people and help adults find jobs.

It is exciting to see this revolution of philanthropic giving. As more companies begin to develop philanthropic-giving programs with the same strategic focus that they use to maximize profits, we will begin to see significant systemic changes occur. By moving from donating to charities to investing in communities, they will help to provide a cure, not just a Band-Aid.

Paige Holland Hamp is a contributing editor of Carolina Journal.