Hands-on business

By David Lamere and Joanne Jaxtimer

The complexion of corporate philanthropy has changed. Today’s charitable giving is more creative, hands-on and strategic.

Fewer companies simply write checks and move on. These days, many focus on building multi-faceted partnerships with community nonprofits to help position them for the long term, not merely to hit this year’s fundraising goal.

Mellon Financial adopted such an approach 10 years ago. The impetus was a desire to position Mellon, long known for its Pittsburgh roots, as a good corporate citizen in Boston.

How? By maximizing all of our resources – senior executives, employee volunteers, as well as corporate and charitable trust dollars – to make a measurable difference with Boston’s smaller nonprofits.

It’s a contemporary model for partnering that emphasizes innovation, entrepreneurship and mutual accountability between funder and nonprofit. Call it a “venture capital” approach to giving.

Mellon proactively targets new and emerging community groups, those without a history of corporate or foundation support.

We identify candidates, perform due diligence, then deliver meaningful grants that, in essence, give us an equity stake in their success.

We engage our executives to serve on a group’s board of directors, keeping an eye on the investment, if you will, and create volunteer opportunities for employees.

We also offer technical assistance to partners, including program guidance, strategic counsel, PR and event support.

These are the intangibles many nonprofits need desperately. All are designed to raise awareness, so partners can leverage Mellon’s investment and attract new donors and funding sources – their future lifelines.

Mellon’s partnership with Reach Out and Read, a Boston-based literacy program for children, is a fine example.

ROR integrates reading into doctor’s visits for kids from six months to six years old. Mellon was ROR’s first corporate partner in 1995 and has since provided gifts totaling nearly $1 million.

Two Mellon execs sit on its national board. And our investment has helped spur grants to ROR from other large funders like the Readers Digest Foundation.

Together, we’ve grown Reach Out and Read from a single Boston office to more than 2,000 sites nationwide. We’ve trained 15,000 doctors and nurses about the value of reading aloud to children. And we distribute more than 3 million books a year to low-income families.

Granted, it’s not the traditional corporate approach to giving, but Mellon’s high-touch model is becoming less of an exception. With today’s demands for greater accountability and more hands-on leadership, we think that’s a positive trend.

David Lamere is vice chairman of Mellon Financial Corp, chairman and CEO of Mellon New England, and president of its Private Wealth Management group. Joanne Jaxtimer is first vice president and director of corporate affairs for Mellon New England.

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