The Key to giving

It was no contest. Judy Barker left New York City’s fashionable upper West Side, where she worked as a global vice president with Avon Products, to come to Cleveland and join KeyCorp as senior vice president of civic affairs and corporate contributions.

Barker also serves as chairman of the board of the Key Foundation and as a member of the company’s corporate contributions committee.

It was an easy decision, Barker says, because KeyCorp is a larger philanthropic entity and the move brings her closer to her grandchildren, who live in her hometown of Columbus.

“New York City is a wonderful place and it has wonderful neighborhoods, but it lacked a sense of community for me,” she says.

So when an opportunity to move closer to home arose, Barker, who has dedicated her professional career to corporate giving, jumped at the chance.

“I could talk about the philanthropic industry forever,” she says. “It’s my passion. I love it. It’s my life’s work. It’s what I will always do.”

But it may not have been until she arrived for her first day on the job that Barker realized just how right her decision had been. It was then that she learned that KeyCorp had made a $420,000 commitment to the United Negro College Fund, an organization on whose national board she sits.

“When I came here on my first day and found that Key had made this commitment, I was absolutely thrilled from both sides of the desk,” she says. “It’s good corporate social citizenship.”

Barker now helps decide where, when, how much and what kind of help the nation’s 12th largest financial institution will give. SBN sat down with her to get her insight on corporate giving.

What role does philanthropy play in business?

Corporate giving is good business. When you give, you get. You get integrity, you get trust, you get pride. You get value from your consumer. You build a base of trust in caring in communities where customers will want to do business with you. Giving is good business and it’s been proven by many, many studies.

If you can do good business in communities where you live, and where you have your people living and working, it’s a good thing for everyone. But it starts with the leadership.

It also serves as a catalyst. When big businesses like ours give, we become the example for others to follow. We’re proud of being the example. We also hope that our example not only will have our consumers and our potential consumers understand the kind of company we are, but also that we can act as a catalyst for other corporate giving.

Corporations know that they can attract and retain employees when they have a broad base of community support, because most people want to be involved in something. A lot of employers have as part of their orientation for new employees (information) about their matching gift program and the other kinds of activities their companies are involved with.

It’s not unusual to see the KeyCorp logo around town at various events. But what can smaller enterprises do to get involved?

There are many mid- and small-sized companies that really want to give. And sometimes they’re a little timid. Sometimes, they’re not asked. It’s always the larger companies that are really the major targets. There are many, many small and mid-sized businesses that very much would like to be part of corporate and community giving if they’re asked.

Not everybody has money to donate. Are there other things they can do?

Giving isn’t always just money. Giving is technical expertise, which our company does a lot of. There are volunteers from the very top of this management team to the people in the mailroom that give of their time. They’re proud of that Key symbol.

When a company gives of its dollars, gives of its time and gives its employees opportunities to participate and feel proud and meaningful in the community, it says a lot to our client base. In turn, our clients are going to want to deal with a company that demonstrates integrity and caring through its corporate contributions. I feel very strongly about that.

How does KeyCorp focus its philanthropic energy?

We have 26 districts, which are outside of our corporate headquarters. In those districts, we rely very heavily on the men and women that run them to know their communities and make recommendations and decisions as to what they should give in their communities.

We do not want to take that responsibility because they know it best. They live there. They know what’s good for their community. They have contribution dollars they use where they see fit, within the realm of what we want to do as a good corporate citizen.

As to the Greater Cleveland area, it, too, is a district. It also has a district president who is very knowledgeable about the community and about the company and what we’re trying to do.

With so many worthy causes in need of a business’s money, time and energy, how does a company decide where to direct its funds?

The Corporate Contributions Committee, which (includes), in part, some of the trustees of the Key Foundation as well as some of the other high-level management, made a decision to have as our first primary strategic thrust financial education.

It makes all the good sense in the world for (our) company. We are a financial services organization. We’re the 12th largest in the nation. Most corporations look to give and tie in their corporate giving or their primary areas of interest to their business. The wise decision of our corporate contributions committee and the Key Foundation board to make our first and primary thrust financial education gives us an opportunity to take this nationally.

Financial education is an arena that not only is what our business is about, but also it is an area where we can make an impact on employment and economic opportunities for people to come into our work force.

What do you give?

We give grants, and we’re going to try to develop that strategic thrust to a greater degree than it is now. We are doing a variety of giving. We give to a health and human services agencies. We’re very big in United Way. We give to youth. We give to the arts. We give to all of the aspects of our community where we live and work.

What we want to do is create a unified strategic giving pattern that would encompass and help bring back value not only to the community, but also make sense for us as an employer in our district.

The United Negro College Fund is a significant example of one of our first gifts that lends itself to our strategic thrust — financial education. I had the absolute privilege of presenting a $420,000 commitment to the UNCF on my third day of employment.

It is all about business. It’s also about doing good as we do business. These young men and women will come into Key, into our work force, after we’ve helped educate them. So our investment will pay off for us and it will pay off for them.

We clearly know that all of the giving that Key does all over the United States is not going to be financial education. We are going to continue to give to organizations that help our business, that are client and consumer based, and it’s the right thing to do.

Many smaller businesses don’t have the infrastructure to create philanthropic committees. What can they do to make sure they’re included in the process.?

There is an equal responsibility on the donee and the donor. I think the nonprofit organization should not forget that they’re there, and that they should perhaps look at them as another market. Perhaps the smaller and mid-sized company cannot give as much, but they certainly want to be a part and can be repetitive in their giving.

I think that the nonprofit community indeed does look to the small and mid-sized company, but maybe not with the same intensity of the larger companies. It’s been my experience that we sometimes forget that the smaller companies want to be a part of the community.
That’s why they’re here. That’s why they have small businesses. They are going to be bigger businesses tomorrow. How to reach: KeyCorp, (800) KEY 2 YOU

Daniel G. Jacobs ([email protected]) is senior editor of SBN.