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To Help Nonprofits, Businesses Do More Than Show ’Em the Money

The blue sport coat is all right for meetings, but it is definitely not part of executive Scott Gnau’s wardrobe on the days he volunteers.

Gnau’s employer allows him and fellow employees to take one day per quarter to do good work in the community. Gnau, dressed in a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, opts to take co-workers to the Escondido Humane Society, where the agenda is dog walking at a nearby park and open space preserve.

“It’s a great time,” Gnau said. “The hardest part of the gig is not taking the dogs home with us.”

Gnau is president of Teradata Labs. It’s the research component of Dayton, Ohio-based Teradata Corp., which employs almost 1,000 people in Rancho Bernardo. The publicly traded company makes sophisticated computers for data warehousing and analytics.

Teradata is one of the many companies that provide employee time and executive talent to San Diego County nonprofits. It also allows employees to send payroll deductions to nonprofits. Teradata will roll out an employer matching program next year, Gnau said.

One thrust of Teradata’s good work is to generate student interest in the disciplines of science, technology, engineering and math, which educators call STEM for short.

Teradata software engineer Richard Pogue volunteers for the FIRST Robotics Competition. Initially it was to help his daughter, who was a junior in high school.

Four years later, he’s still at it, working with a robot-building team at Rancho Bernardo High School. He walks the students through various aspects of the robot building project, such as fundraising and engineering design.

A Win-Win Situation

He also takes multiple vacation days to help oversee the varsity robot competition in the spring at the Valley View Casino Center, aka the San Diego Sports Arena. “It’s almost like a Final Four atmosphere,” Pogue said, referring to another big event in the spring, the men’s NCAA basketball championships.

Here, philanthropy is “a win-win,” as Gnau puts it, as it introduces Teradata to potential new employees.

Teradata is not the only company that lends its talent to philanthropic causes. Qualcomm Inc. has shown an ability to throw a lot of resources at a project.

Qualcomm has sent crews to tend the 10-acre Balboa Park site that Girl Scouts San Diego calls its home. Jo Dee Jacob, the nonprofit’s CEO, said the chipmaker sent 100 people, who worked in two shifts to clear invasive vegetation and plant drought-tolerant species. They also graded a trail — complete with a secret hiding place — that connects two levels of the hillside property.

Such volunteer work lets Girl Scouts put more of its money toward its program, rather than facilities, Jacob said.

Money Helps, Too

Businesses also opt to support local causes directly, by donating money. For example, TaylorMade Golf Co. Inc. in Carlsbad is making a three-year, $1 million donation to Solutions for Change, a Vista-based philanthropy that works to take homeless families off the street and put them back into society.

Mark King is CEO of TaylorMade. He said he believes in Solutions for Change, and he’s aided the organization in other ways. King helped raise $1.3 million for the philanthropy by tending to details of the charity’s Oct. 8 gala, which attracted a who’s who of North County business and politics, and featured former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as keynote speaker.

Even if they can’t arrange for seven-figure donations, executives at local businesses get involved with San Diego nonprofits by sitting on their boards.

Phil Blair, co-owner of the Manpower Inc. temporary services agency in San Diego, is a director for the United Way of San Diego County, which raises money to support other area charities.

Blair said board work is interesting in that it exposes him to many different managerial styles.

Strength in Numbers

Nonprofit boards are also taking a cue from the private sector, he said. Increasingly, they want to measure success with numbers. If a nonprofit runs a job-training program, then the board will want data. How many people started with the program? How many ended up with full employment? What is the cost per head? Stakeholders scrutinize the data from all angles. A blanket statement that “we do a lot of good stuff” will impress neither board members nor donors, Blair said.

He also has a personal goal to spend one-half hour a month reading aloud to students in the school program run by Chula Vista-based South Bay Community Services.

As times change, so do companies’ attitudes toward philanthropy.

Teradata split off from NCR Corp. in 2007. The spinoff provided company executives with an opportunity to make changes to their philanthropy program. Teradata executives opted to make it “a little bit more flexible” than most big company programs, Gnau said.

And while certain sums may appear small, individual contributions matter, said the United Way’s Blair.

“People giving a dollar a week, or $10 or $25, adds up to a lot of money when there are thousands of people doing it,” he said.

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