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The mission of Deacon Corp. has long included a commitment to “support our communities,” so 10 years ago the West Coast contractor formalized its charitable giving by creating a foundation to more evenly allocate funds from year to year and among its offices in Washington, Oregon and California.

Prior to the foundation being established, each office spent a percentage of net profits on local charitable organizations, but it was challenging to give strategically because the size of projects and billing cycles varied from quarter to quarter. Now, annual giving is balanced companywide (4 percent of pre-tax profit each year goes to the foundation), regardless of whether a particular office is having an outstanding or modest quarter.

“Frankly, some offices had years with net negative earnings during the recession, yet it was recognized that support of the community was as important—if not more so—in and around those offices,” says Julie Earnest, executive director of the Deacon Charitable Foundation. “It was also recognized that charitable giving was an important aspect of employee engagement, so having the ability to even out the giving budget through the formation of a corporate foundation was critical.”

With a clear mission—geared toward organizations that address vital community needs in the areas of human services, animal welfare and the environment—the foundation provides clarity for employees and helps local charities understand how to approach the company for support.

Notably, employee priorities guide all of the Deacon Charitable Foundation’s giving decisions. Every other year, employees are surveyed to rank what’s important to them and then the volunteer Giving Committee for each office (Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Sacramento and Irvine, Calif.) selects the local charities and the size and number of grants made. In general, each office annually awards 10 to 20 grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000. Grants are used to support core operations, strengthen organizations, develop specific programs or build and renovate facilities.

In addition to grantmaking, the Giving Committees coordinate all community service activities. In the past, successful activities have included cooking dinner at a Ronald McDonald House in Seattle, packing potatoes at the Oregon Food Bank in Portland, serving the needs of homeless veterans in Sacramento and cleaning up a beach in Irvine. Last fall, a “Staches and Lashes” campaign engaged employees in a fun new way. Instead of just having men grow facial hair to raise awareness of prostate cancer (as in years past), a Giving Committee came up with the idea of expanding the month-long campaign to include wearing pink in support of breast cancer research.

“We had really interesting conversations about how to make this activity gender neutral and inclusive,” Earnest says. “We set participation targets for each office and for the whole company…and we exceeded them several times.”

For example, the Irvine office blew past the 30 percent participation goal with 100 percent engagement—meaning every employee donated at least $20 of his or her own money (matched by the foundation). In total, “Staches and Lashes” resulted in more than $12,600 being donated to two charities.

Engagement in community service activities and the employee matching grant program continues to increase every year. Deacon acknowledges Giving Committee volunteers at its annual winter celebration, and the general manager for each office organizes a luncheon to thank committee members for their service.

As it turns out, the foundation is a valuable recruitment tool, too.

“We often hear candidates mention the existence of our foundation as one of the reasons they want to work for Deacon,” Earnest says. More importantly, she adds, it’s the right thing to do. “Our success depends on the success of our community. When our communities are growing and thriving, we get to build even more wonderful buildings right where we live and shop and play. When our communities are experiencing economic struggles, the Deacon Charitable Foundation can play a small but important role in smoothing over those harder times.”

Joanna Masterson is senior editor of Construction Executive. For more information, email masterson@abc.org or follow @Constructionmag.

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