You have personally volunteered to serve in many leadership roles for nonprofits as have Nick and Donna Akins and others – how do you select the nonprofits for which you or your Executive Team will serve in leadership roles?
They typically choose themselves and I occasionally help recruit them. One of AEP’s core cultural principles is giving back. Our business thrives and prospers when our communities do and that has manifested in board service. If you are an officer at AEP you are expected to serve on at least one nonprofit board. I match them as needed but typically they have a good idea of what they are interested in doing. I track and report this involvement to the CEO, and share where there are holes in service to determine where we need someone to serve.
Does having a board member from AEP serving on a nonprofit board increase the likelihood they will receive funding?
Where we make significant gifts we almost always have corporate executives serving on that board, especially if it is outside of our giving priorities. Gifts outside of our funding focus areas usually happen because of relationships.
How are volunteers requested from AEP for nonprofit needs?
Most volunteerism comes through corporate headquarters. We are heavily influenced by the interests of our employees. We currently have 16 company approved campaigns in Columbus. They all have executive champions (officers), and community champions (employees that lead campaigns). We give these groups access to the lobby for fundraising, the ability to solicit employees, and we give them seed money for things like t-shirts and hats. The majority of those 16 campaigns don’t align with corporate philanthropic priorities (which is STEM education and basic needs) but our associates are highly engaged in them. The largest campaign we do outside of United Way is Operation Feed for the Mid-Ohio Foodbank.
How are in-kind gifts requested from AEP and what might those entail?
It’s important to know that we do not provide free electricity, ever. We sometimes provide grant money to help pay for electric bills but we don’t provide it in-kind. Most of the in-kind we do is donating suites in athletic facilities to nonprofits for auctions.
Your focus for giving includes education (with a STEM focus), the environment and human services, such as hunger, housing, health, and safety. What has been the most impactful grant you have made in these areas and why?
For a long time, we didn’t have a signature program but now we have Credits Count. We have invested over $14 million in this program that provides college level STEM education to high poverty, urban and rural high school students across our service territory. We did a pilot at Columbus State Community College where Columbus City high school students can earn up to 30 community college credits free of charge. When they graduate from high school, if they’ve obtained a minimum 2.5 GPA in their college level courses, we also give additional scholarship funds to help with continued college education.
You mention economic development grants – are those part of the focus above or separate from?
This is a completely different pool of funds that are not managed by me because they are regulated dollars. We have an economic development team that works with government and other private sector officials to attract new businesses because, ultimately, we want to grow our service territory too. You can learn more about that work here: http://www.aepsustainability.com/investment/development/
You primarily support nonprofits within AEP’s eleven service territories (Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma – what is the process for requesting support outside of central Ohio). How are those funding decisions made?
Our operating company presidents and/or their Vice President for External Affairscoordinate the charitable giving and volunteer programming outside of Columbus. The Presidents can be found on our website (http://www.aep.com/about/leadership/regionalpresidents.aspx) and a list of addresses to submit service territory grant requests are also on the website (https://www.aep.com/community/ourgiving/CorporateGivingGuidelines/).
How is the process started to request funding from AEP corporate and/or the foundation?
These are both accepted electronically by invitation only.
Our budget for corporate contributions is as large as the AEP Foundation budget and almost all of that money goes to Columbus. Corporate requests can be submitted at any time. Corporate funding provides operating support and event sponsorship.
Foundation support is primarily for capital, program and endowment gifts. The Foundation Board meets two times a year. There is a March 1 deadline for the May meeting and an August 1st deadline for the October meeting.
Our annual Foundation giving budget is 15% of the corpus balance.
What is the difference between requesting support from AEP corporate and AEP Ohio?
We talk a lot. Since AEP is headquartered in Columbus the lines can get a little blurry. To a large extent AEP corporate focuses on Central Ohio/Columbus and AEP Ohio focuses largely outside of the Central Ohio area in other parts of Ohio.
How are requests for capital support approached?
We provide budgetary guidelines to operating companies so they know what they can anticipate annually from the foundation. Capital requests across the eleven state service areas all come to me for review by the foundation. The operating company Presidents prioritize/rank order them. I also provide a recommendation based on the budget amount available at the time. Multi-year commitments to capital campaigns generally do not exceed five years.
Tell me about your matching gifts program.
We provide a 50 cent match for every dollar employees donate to the United Way. We also provide a dollar for dollar match for employee gifts to colleges/universities, up to $1,000.
For episodic major global natural disasters employees often approach us to run a campaign where we match employee donations dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. For employees who are victims of natural disasters themselves, we provide emergency assistance grants of up to $5,000 in partnership with the Salvation Army. This program is funded by employee contributions through payroll deduction.
What are some of the traits of the best fundraisers you have worked with?
It’s all about relationships in the end. They have invested the time to get to know their donors and have done their research before their first meeting. Fundraisers should understand the company/individuals giving priorities. They have board members. They also need to cultivate them and find alignment. It’s about bringing people together, listening and adjusting and putting the puzzle pieces together based on your research and relationships to find a win-win.
What do you think are the biggest issues facing nonprofits today?
The people I consider to be most talented Executive Directors are getting ready to retire with no clear successor in their ranks. This needs to be an issue boards deal with - succession planning is the role of a nonprofit board - and not many nonprofits have a clear succession plan. Board members need to ensure nonprofits are doing the same thing they would do in their corporate positions. From what I have seen, internal succession planning doesn’t seem to happen, which can be disruptive. Often new leaders are brought in from outside of the nonprofit.
In addition to Executive Director turnover, there are not many super stars in fundraising for nonprofits. The best of them seem to move around a lot. Nonprofits need to pay good ones well so they stay.
Where can people go to learn more about your philanthropy?
You can learn a lot from our giving reports online that list all of our donations https://www.aep.com/community/reports
More about our foundation can be found online at https://www.aep.com/community/ourgiving/aepfoundation/
Our corporate giving guidelines can also be found online at https://www.aep.com/community/GivingBack