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Tapping Duke Energy – Utility aims to connect

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By Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Scott Carlberg likens corporate philanthropy to impressionist painting.

“Every company has a brush stroke or two in its outreach that they do well,” says Carlberg, director of corporate community relations for Duke Energy Corp. “When you stand back, the whole picture of a healthy community comes into focus.”

Focusing Duke Energy’s charity has been a top priority for Carlberg, who held a similar job at Phillips Petroleum Co. in Bartlesville, Okla., before joining Duke Energy two years ago.

The company’s philanthropy has changed and grown slightly as a result of its 1997 merger with PanEnergy Corp., a Houston-based gas and pipeline company.

The foundation’s giving this year will total $11.2 million, compared to a total of $10.7 million in 1997 for the two companies. Duke Energy this year also made a one-time gift of $4.5 million to the Lynnwood Foundation, which oversees the Duke Mansion and Lee Institute.

Since the merger, the Duke Energy Foundation – which handles most of the company’s philanthropy – has taken stock of itself. It surveyed key communities groups, talked to company managers and employees, and studied philanthropy at other companies.

The result is a revamped strategy emphasizing three areas that play to the company’s strengths – improving the teaching of math and science in kindergarten through high school, with an emphasis on math; encouraging employees and retirees to volunteer; and developing community leaders and strengthening nonprofits.

Math is a big priority.

“We’re a math-based company,” says Carlberg, who helps develop strategy for the foundation. “That’s the skill we ought to share and support.”

The foundation focuses on math in kindergarten through high school, but also supports science, engineering and business-related programs at selected colleges and universities.

Working with Teach for America, for example, the foundation helps recruit math and science teachers in key U.S. communities where it operates.

Since 1974, the power company has sponsored week-long summer workshops to provide teachers with information about electricity and the environment that they can use in their classrooms.

And preliminary talks are underway with the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics to provide pre-algebra reasoning to elementary- and middle-school students.

The foundation also sponsors summer programs at Clemson University for minority students entering college who plan to be engineers, and for eighth-grade girls interested in science and engineering.

Duke Energy’s effort to strengthen communities draws heavily on encouraging its employees to get involved in local nonprofit organizations, and helping nonprofits be more effective.

The heart of the strategy is working to develop leaders – both among the company’s employees and at nonprofits.

“We believe that generally across the nation there is a need for our corporation to support a strong civic fabric or network,” Carlberg says, “and we believe that volunteerism helps build that social capital in a city.”

The foundation makes grants to individual nonprofits, matches some gifts by employees and supports nonprofits at which its employees volunteer. And it looks for ways to be a catalyst in strengthening communities.

In talks with the Greater Carolinas Chapter of the American Red Cross, for example, the foundation learned last year that neighborhoods near Johnson C. Smith University suffered a lot of residential fires.

So a Duke Energy volunteer helped form a coalition that included the Red Cross, the university, the neighborhood, Duke Energy, Royal & SunAlliance and other corporations.

University students trained neighborhood residents, who in turn trained families about safety and health issues. Families also received fire extinguishers and smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors.

The coalition aims to train 500 families this year, and already has trained 162. And the Red Cross is expanding the initiative, known as Project Fireproof, to other communities that have a lot of residential fires.

The foundation encourages nonprofits seeking support to visit the its Web site and talk to Chris Carter, its executive director, to find out whether their projects fit the foundation’s goals.

The foundation, which accepts applications in June and July, asks nonprofits to make requests that include goals that can be measured – and to expect that the company will be involved in their projects.

“Our goal, wherever we operate, is to become the neighbor of choice,” says Carlberg. “Very rarely will you get Duke Energy money without Duke Energy.”

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