Power of philanthropy energizes utility's community relations liaison

It's all the rage to hop from company to company these days, looking for opportunities to climb the career ladder with different businesses.

But Doretha Easler found all the advancement she could possibly want at NV Energy. Easler has spent her entire career with the local power company, starting in the mail room at age 20 and working her way up through the ranks to become manager of community relations. Along the way, Easler worked in departments as diverse as purchasing, where she bought office supplies, and new construction, where she helped coordinate power delivery to developers building office parks and new-home communities.

It's her current post, though, that ranks as Easler's favorite. Her efforts connect NV Energy employees to volunteering opportunities in the community, and she also oversees funding initiatives through the utility's charitable foundation.

Question: After holding jobs in a variety of areas over the years, what convinced you to go the philanthropic route at NV Energy?

Answer: I worked with the United Way of Southern Nevada for three months as a "loaned executive." I was skeptical about it at first, but I did want an opportunity to grow and do something different. During my time with the United Way of Southern Nevada, I visited different nonprofit agencies and got a sense of what the nonprofit community was all about, and how it was addressing the needs of the community. I became passionate about it.

Question: Why is community relations important for a company like NV Energy?

Answer: It gives our employees an opportunity to make a difference in the community, and to connect with their neighbors and find out what their needs are. Those needs extend to more than just keeping the lights on. In order to have a healthy community, you need to address some of those needs, whether it's through philanthropy or volunteer resources.

Question: What are the most popular causes among NV Energy employees these days?

Answer: They seem to be very passionate about Goodie Two Shoes. A lot of people take it for granted that others have a pair of shoes to wear every day. Goodie Two Shoes provides shoes and socks to kids who don't have them. On Oct. 23, Goodie Two Shoes will bring about 2,000 kids down to the Boys and Girls Club and provide shoes, socks and schools supplies. Our employees like working with kids, and they like working with organizations that provide basic needs and services. We also have quite a few people volunteering for Three Square's "Backpack for Kids" programs (to provide food for hungry children). We have our "Make It a Day On, Not a Day Off" project on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. We have the day off, but our employees have volunteered to fill backpacks at Three Square that day.

A lot of employees also volunteer for our annual Senior Energy Assistance Expo. NV Energy has a utility-bill assistance program for seniors funded by shareholders. This year, we held it at Cashman Center, and close to 3,000 people came out. We had other community partners there, and we had a food program. For the first time, we invited Southwest Gas, the Las Vegas Valley Water District and CenturyLink to share the services they provide. We processed 1,100 applications and gave out $350,000 in utility-bill assistance.

Question: How often do people come up to you at nonprofit events and complain about their power bill?

Answer: Sometimes it happens. But most of the time, they just want to vent. If you can provide them with information on an organization that can help them, they're usually OK. I also hear people say what a wonderful community partner NV Energy is, but they don't like getting that bill. We all get power bills, and with the economy the way it is, a lot of people are struggling. We want them to know we understand there are issues, and there are resources.

Question: Does the power company get an unfair bad rap?

Answer: If anyone gets that, it's our employees, because they have big hearts and they really do work hard to give back to the community. It gives me a great sense of pride to see how our employees continue to step up and give back. If a nonprofit had a sudden issue and needed help, I could quickly find 10 employees willing to give up their Saturday to help.

If you are struggling to pay your bill, quite naturally, you're going to be a little bit upset. We offer assistance and direct people to services so they can manage their energy costs. We have conservation programs, and they can contact customer service and make payment arrangements. The last thing we want to do is disconnect someone for nonpayment.

Question: How do you measure success on your job?

Answer: Success is measured through the eyes of our employees, neighbors and shareholders. As one example of the way I measure success, we have an exit survey at our energy-assistance expo, through which we ask them about their experience as they're leaving. We've found that 80 percent to 90 percent of the participants are very satisfied with NV Energy offering that to them. For me, success is also seeing a smile on a customer's face after they leave one of our events, or just a simple "thank you for what you do for the community." And of course, I appreciate the acknowledgement of our peers and professional organizations when they recognize what we're doing in the community.

Question: What is your biggest career accomplishment?

Answer: Developing our community-relations programs to where they are today. Before, we didn't have a formal employee-volunteer program. Now, we have a tool in place that matches employees with volunteering opportunities across the nation. We also totally revamped our utility-bill assistance program so it's targeted to help our most vulnerable customers.

I'm also proud of We Are Community, a new partnership with teachers and students through the Clark County Public Education Foundation where we teach students about philanthropy and community service. It gives me an opportunity to create young leaders who will be doing same thing I do.

Question: What do you like best about your work?

Answer: I would say the most rewarding thing at the end of the day is knowing that I was able to match corporate contributions with an organization that is really making a difference, and for our employees to have a sense of pride in the fact that our company cares about the community. I like that we can address an issue by investing financial or volunteer resources, and make a difference in the community.

Question: Where are the challenges?

Answer: Having to turn some organizations down because our funds are limited. There are a lot of great things out there that nonprofits are doing, but we can't support all of them because our resources are limited.

Question: It's rare these days for people to spend an entire career with one company.

Answer: It is, but the great thing about working here is that there are a lot of positions within the company, and there's educational assistance so you can go to school and develop yourself. There are also training programs to help you move into any position in the company.

Question: What are your future career plans?

Answer: To continue to do the good work that we do in the community, to strive to be our very best, to inspire excellence from our employees and to continue to lead change. We want to adapt to what's going on in the community so that we're always ahead of the issues that may affect our customers.

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4512.