American Express raising its philanthropic profile

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — This fall, bronze sculptures of giant coffee cups will sprout at public locations throughout Guilford County.

Designed by local and regional artists, the sculptures will signify the cups of coffee four young men ordered at the lunch counter at an all-white Woolworth’s store in Greensboro on Feb. 1, 1960, triggering a sit-in that launched the civil-rights movement.

The sculpture project, a collaborative effort of the United Arts Council of Greater Greensboro and the International Civil Rights Center & Museum, received a $17,500 grant from American Express.

The company, which employs 2,200 people at its Service Center in Greensboro, has worked in the past year-and-a-half to raise the awareness in the community of its philanthropic programs, says Tim Goetz, the company’s manager for community affairs.

Those programs include a grants program that distributes over $250,000 a year; an employee-giving program that last year totaled over $200,000 in employee pledges the company matched with another $200,000; and a volunteer program in which over 1,700 employees donated just over 6,000 hours to 80 nonprofits.

The grants program focuses on three priorities, including preserving and enriching cultural heritage, encouraging community service and developing new leaders.

In 2007, the company made 12 grants totaling $167,500 to preserve and enrich the region’s cultural heritage, including the project with the United Arts Council and Civil
Rights Center.

American Express also made three grants totaling $32,500 to develop new leaders, including $10,000 to the Guilford Nonprofit Consortium for a new initiative to provide training for nonprofit executive directors.

And the company made six grants totaling $55,000 to encourage community service in areas where its employees and customers live and work.

American Express, for example, made a $10,000 grant to support the North Carolina Special Olympics and this fall will serve as a sponsor of the group’s statewide fall
games, to be held in Guilford County, an event that also will present an opportunity for company employees to serve as volunteers.

The company encourages employees to volunteer on their own time and offers flexible working hours to make it easier for them to volunteer, says Goetz, who was executive director of the Greensboro Children’s Museum before joining American Express a year-and-a-half ago.

An employee volunteer council made up of over 20 employees considers volunteer projects in the community and promotes volunteer opportunities on the company’s internal website.

The company also offers a “Global Volunteer Action Fund” that offers competitive $500 grants to nonprofits at which a single employee volunteers at least 25 hours in a single year, and $1,000 grants to nonprofits at which two or more employees each volunteers 25 hours in a single year.

The company also tracks employees’ volunteering through a volunteer portal on its website.

Each fall, American Express encourages employees to give to local, national and international nonprofits through a workplace giving campaign that features several
fundraising federations and agencies such as United Way, Earth Share and Children’s Charities of America.

“This is one of our values at American Express,” Goetz says, “to be good citizens in the community in which we work and live.”

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