PPG among firms forming partnerships rather than just donating dollars

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In 2001, the PPG Industries Foundation forged a partnership with the Pittsburgh Zoo to provide financial support totaling nearly $14 million through 2021 and the opportunity to put the glass and coatings company's name on the facility's aquarium.

That relationship has reaped recognition for Downtown-based PPG as families check out the creatures in the PPG Aquarium, but the company said its contributions also are funding zoo programs, research and initiatives that have served as a model for its corporate philanthropy worldwide.

Don't expect PPG to seek naming rights for zoos in South Africa or Mexico anytime soon. But those are among the global locations where the company's foundation has engaged in corporate giving programs that trace back to its strong connection with its hometown zoo.

In Alrode, a suburb south of Johannesburg, South Africa, where PPG operates a coatings plant, the company supports the Zululand Rhino Reserve Foundation, which seeks to stop the poaching of endangered rhinos. Before PPG committed to fund the Web-based organization Stop Rhino Poaching, the Pittsburgh Zoo provided background research on rhino conservation efforts.

Near its coatings plant in San Juan del Rio, Mexico, PPG has contributed funding for the Queretaro Wameru Zoo to repair more than 100 rusty, decrepit signs. PPG Paints were donated for other upgrades, and employees from PPG's nearby plant volunteer at the zoo. Recent foundation funding of $25,000 is targeted to renovate a structure that houses the animals' food supply.

"We're piloting the idea of partnerships instead of just giving dollars," said Sue Sloan, executive director of the PPG Foundation. "The mission of the foundation is to enhance the quality of life where PPG has facilities. It's about how we can engage and find value in the community ... and get our employees engaged."

PPG is hardly alone among companies establishing what they hope will be long-term, sustainable connections between their philanthropic resources, the locations where they do business, and the products they make.

A recent report from the New York-based Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy found most large companies with global operations report the strongest drivers of corporate giving were business strategy and employee footprint. The first-of-its-kind study said because so many companies have expanded their international presence, especially in emerging regions, they now seek solutions to issues rather than simply providing cash grants.

Corporations gave a total $18 billion to charities in 2012, up 12 percent from 2011, according to Giving USA, a report from the Giving USA Foundation and the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Total corporate contributions tracked by Giving USA include cash, grants and in-kind donations.

The corporate philanthropy study surveyed 60 large international companies with median annual revenues of $17.5 billion, including Samsung, Alcoa, Microsoft, Starbucks and Verizon. Their annual charitable contributions ranged from $450,000 to $1.5 billion, with a median amount of $29.3 million.

"While companies are expanding their global footprint, they are simultaneously shifting their attention to investing in solutions to global community issues," said Daryl Brewster, chief executive of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, in published comments accompanying the report.

"They understand that to be global leaders in business, they also have to lead in addressing societal challenges wherever they want to have a presence."

The New York-based Alcoa Foundation, for instance, which made contributions of about $20 million worldwide in 2012, focuses its giving mainly on environmental and education causes.

That includes a $1.25 million grant announced in September that over the next two years will fund manufacturing internships for 500 unemployed students in eight countries where the aluminum maker does business. Alcoa leaders in those countries will select nonprofits with job training programs to help place the students and connect them with mentors.

The EQT Foundation, the charitable arm of Downtown-based natural gas producer EQT Corp., doled out almost $1 million last year to local nonprofits for natural gas vehicles. Since its launch in 2003, the foundation has made grants of $14 million-plus to nonprofits in the areas of education, community development, the environment, arts and culture.

Among the recipients of alternative fuel vehicles grants was the Pittsburgh Zoo, which used the money for a van that runs on compressed natural gas and which is the signature means of transport for the zoo's One Degree of Change, an outreach program that provides teaching tools and other information on global warming and climate change.

With assets of about $5 million, the PPG Foundation is what Ms. Sloan called a "pay-as-you-go" foundation that is funded year-to-year by its parent corporation. It paid out just under $5 million in grants in 2012, including $2 million to recipients in the Pittsburgh region, she said.

The foundation took a hit after the financial crash of 2008 when funding by the corporation declined and the foundation's board and staff had to "make tough decisions about eliminating grants," Ms. Sloan said.

Even though PPG's allocation has risen as the economy has rebounded, the dollar amount of grants since 2008 "is not back to where it was" prior to the global recession, she said. That year, the foundation distributed $5.2 million.

As funding has become tighter, the foundation has focused its gifts largely on so-called STEM initiatives that promote more widespread education in science, technology, engineering and math and that tap PPG's businesses for expertise.

Take the Great Color Caper, an interactive mystery game for school assemblies that was developed with the Carnegie Science Center to introduce students in the Pittsburgh region to the scientific origins of color and light.

After a successful reception locally, the company wanted to broaden the audience so it asked the science center to replicate the program in other PPG communities, including Oak Creek, Wisc., where a coatings plant is located and where the science center partnered with the Harley Davidson Museum in Milwaukee. In Charlotte, N.C., it worked with the Discovery Place science center to bring the program to schools near PPG's fiber glass plants in Shelby and Lexington, N.C., and Chester, S.C. Eventually, the program made its way to Reno, Nev., and Mojave, Calif., where PPG also has coatings plants.

"They are more than just funders, they are really partners," said Jessica Lausch, director of visitor experience at the Carnegie Science Center.

For its latest collaboration with the science center, "Wild by Design: Innovations from A to Zoo," PPG pulled in the zoo for additional expertise on how animal behavior can inspire solutions for scientific problems.

In the hands-on, interactive program rolled out to Pittsburgh-area elementary and middle-school classes this fall, students take a virtual tour of the zoo and a laboratory.

A chemist from PPG's Allison Park research site appears in a video to say she is looking for a robot to spray paint a car. An elephant keeper from the zoo responds that an elephant's trunk is flexible enough to serve as a model for a robot arm.

"We connected the zoo and the science center, and strategically, it's a nice fit," Ms. Sloan said. "Everything is about relationships, and it made sense for both nonprofits and for PPG."

Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.

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