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Report on corporate giving to show Nevada tops national average

A routine plane ride may have changed the course of corporate philanthropy in Nevada.

When Barrick Gold Corp.’s Michael Brown and NV Energy’s Tony Sanchez ended up next to each other on a Southwest Airlines flight to Reno in 2011, it wasn’t long before talk turned to charity.

Brown, Barrick’s U.S. vice president of corporate and external affairs, was newly tasked with “professionalizing” and expanding the mining company’s corporate social-responsibility initiatives. He wanted to know what his corporate peers were up to on the giving front, but details were tough to find. Nobody tracked company giving in Nevada.

When Sanchez, NV Energy’s senior vice president of government and community strategy, told Brown he also struggled with finding information, the two had a brainstorm: They’d underwrite a benchmark study on how Nevada’s big corporate donors give.

The results of that report, called “Corporate Philanthropy in Nevada,” will debut at a private event hosted today by the R&R Partners Foundation in Summerlin. But that unveiling is only the beginning.

“Over time, we hope it will lift the overall philanthropic mass in the state,” Brown said. “We’re hoping we’ll see enhanced commitment here by publicly held corporations.”

To understand how the report could affect corporate giving, consider its findings.

For starters, forget about Nevada’s bad rap as an uncharitable place. The study, conducted by local research firm Applied Analysis in conjunction with Moonridge Group Philanthropy Advisors of Las Vegas, found that the state’s charitable foundations gave $227.3 million, or $83.46 per capita, in 2011. That per-person rate was 5.7 percent higher than the national average of $78.96.

In fact, Nevada was the most giving in the eight-state Mountain Region, which includes Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. The per-capita average among all eight states was $34.59.

What’s more, a notable chunk of Nevada’s economy goes to foundation work, Applied Analysis found. The state ranked No. 11 for giving compared to its gross state product, donating 0.176 percent of its state product through foundations in 2011. That compared with 0.078 percent across the Mountain Region, and 0.164 percent nationally.

That’s all counting just cash donations. Include in-kind services and time contributed through employee volunteerism, and “the impact that local corporate foundations are making is quite larger than we anticipated,” said Julie Murray, a longtime local philanthropist who’s principal and CEO of Moonridge Advisors. “That’s great news for nonprofits in the community, and ultimately, for people in need.”

But the state underperforms in some areas, too. There’s a big lag in how much funding Nevada-based foundations receive from other foundations both in and out of the state: The $136.1 million total breaks down to $49.98 per capita, 26.6 percent lower than the national average of $68.07.

Plus, the balance of giving may need a second look. More than half — 55.5 percent — went to human-service charities in 2011. Education, health, the arts and the environment split the rest.

Armed with that information, corporate execs say they hope to give more smartly.

The first study will help company philanthropists create models to track how they donate, and what kind of return on investment their giving yields.

“We’ll have the opportunity, with major corporate funders sitting around the table, to look at the mix of giving, and say, “Oh my gosh, we didn’t know all of us were giving to this one area. What about the arts? What about the environment?’ We’ll be able to look at other places to give,” Murray said.

There’ll also be a new corporate giving round table, a group of about 30 big companies that will meet quarterly beginning in March. The round table will commission annual updates of “Corporate Philanthropy in Nevada” for a sense of where new needs are emerging.

And for advice on how to improve giving, the group will bring in guest speakers from corporate round tables in other cities.

The idea is to collaborate on new approaches to contributions, Brown said. Take Barrick’s focus on education. The company underwrites educational programs through the Nevada Ballet Theatre, so it’s not only supporting instruction but culture as well. That example has helped other companies find new ways to blend giving that meets multiple needs, Brown said.

Brown will co-chair the round table with Shelley Gitomer, MGM Resorts International’s vice president of philanthropy and community engagement.

“Our community has many needs, and the demands on the organizations in our community are intense,” Gitomer said. “Philanthropy is becoming part of the culture for many corporations. We will need to produce results that are measurable, and it will help us to have more, and better, reporting from other corporations.”

Contact reporter Jennifer Robison at jrobison@reviewjournal.com. Follow @J_Robison1 on Twitter.

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