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Corporate Foundations’ Flexibility Tested During Pandemic

 How to engage with prospective charity grantees proved challenging last year, with corporate foundation teams out of the office as needs also shifted when it came to giving over the course of the pandemic.

“There was a significant impact as far as the charities we support,” said Kevin Webb, senior director of the Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation, in reflecting on 2020.

In fact, total corporate giving among the largest Orange County foundations fell last year by 7.4% to $649.5 million, according to Business Journal data.

Giving to OC charities specifically, among that same group, also fell by 9.5% to $17.8 million.

Pacific Life Foundation in Newport Beach, whose corporate arm Pacific Life Insurance Co. late last month announced CEO Jim Morris’ planned retirement next year, contributed the most of any corporate foundations locally with some $4.6 million given to OC charities and $8.3 million in total cash and fair market value in-kind contributions given in 2020.

Others, such as Sunwest Bank Charitable Foundation in Irvine, boosted its overall and OC charitable contributions last year amid the pandemic after determining the bank should “extend our outreach to provide greater support during these trying times,” Sunwest Bank Chairman and CEO Eric Hovde said.

“The global pandemic brought on by COVID has brought a lot of hardship and negativity,” the CEO said.

Other big givers to OC charities last year included Edwards Lifesciences Foundation in Irvine ($2.1 million), Wells Fargo & Co. in Irvine ($2.1 million), Bank of America Charitable Foundation Inc. in North Carolina ($2 million) and Irvine Co. of Newport Beach ($2 million).

Going Virtual

Mitsubishi Electric’s charitable arm, which does a heavy amount of work with schools, found itself in an interesting predicament with classrooms being out of session for in-person learning much of last year, while job placement programs—another area the organization is involved in—proved another hurdle with employers working from home and unable to provide students with in-office training and mentoring.

Still, some programs managed to persist. Webb pointed to success stories in programs that were able to make the leap to virtual.  

“We had a lot of success stories converting to virtual training,” Webb said. “As far as how it affected our company in terms of our ability to engage, it took us a little while to come up with some of the activities. Because of COVID, our employees weren’t at the office, so it’s hard to generate a lot of engagement as far as in-person volunteer engagement.”

Mitsubishi Electric’s corporation foundation pumped some $2.3 million in 2020 cash and fair market value in-kind contributions, a jump of 46.3% from the prior year, according to data received from the Business Journal. Product donations and donations through Mitsubishi Electric’s HVAC division in Georgia helped boost the total last year, with the board also increasing giving in the past year to help with personal protective equipment and other similar COVID-related efforts.

“We’ve been trying to adjust over the past 18 months, so we’re slowly getting back to normal and our volunteers are committed to supporting the local community and helping them get through this and get beyond it,” Webb said.

Social Impact

Last year’s rise in awareness around social justice issues prompted Taco Bell Corp. CEO Mark King to issue a statement on his commitment to “fostering inclusion and embracing and supporting diversity,” while also noting, “Our Taco Bell Foundation will also continue to work with partners that impact communities of color and support youth education.”

The restaurant company’s foundation set a goal of awarding $21 million in scholarships by this year.

The Taco Bell Foundation boosted its efforts last year with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Orange Coast, the only charity the philanthropic arm of the Irvine-based fast food chain funds. A bonus grant of $50,000 was gifted to the organization in 2020, boosting its OC charitable contributions by 200% from the prior year to $60,000. That bonus grant helped create the Live Mas Playbook in partnership with the organization.

“The Taco Bell Foundation is proud to support the work of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Coast, including their fantastic College Bound program,” said Marchela Iahdjian, associate manager of programs and partnerships at the Taco Bell Foundation.

The Live Mas Playbook, Iahdjian said, is meant “to capture the best practices of the College Bound program and eventually share those with a broader audience that seeks to make an impact on youth.”

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