Giving back. It’s a phrase many companies utilize to convey the notion that they are focused on more than just turning a profit. It’s listed on their websites, printed in corporate brochures and included in annual reports—and it’s key to attracting talented new employees. The stated reason behind corporate philanthropy and employee volunteerism is consistent: to make the place—wherever that place may be—a better place to live and work. It’s hard to argue with that as a motivation because a company is only as strong as the people it serves.
When I was named Director of Community and Public Relations for Ameren Illinois four years ago, it became part of my responsibility to assist our senior leaders in distributing grant funds to worthwhile organizations and causes throughout our 43,000-square-mile territory. Last year, Ameren Illinois provided more than $1.5 million to nonprofits, and we’re on pace to donate $2.5 million this year. With these resources, one would think it would be relatively “easy” to award the funds. After all, there are so many people in need that we can never do enough, right?
That’s not always the case. In fact, it can be challenging to find and support organizations which can convey that they have the operational structure, leadership and vision required to carry out their mission effectively. At Ameren Illinois, our focus is on helping organizations do more and serve more people, especially children, seniors and low-income individuals. We’re focused on working with organizations that can deliver results and solve problems. Sometimes we’ll receive grant requests from organizations to help buy physical equipment, like an appliance or a generator. Sure, that might be useful to help the organization run, but is it going to change the lives of people in need? Will it help them become stronger contributors to society?
At Ameren Illinois, we get no greater satisfaction than hosting an energy assistance event where we can look people in the eyes and know that a contribution toward payment of their energy bill will provide some much-needed financial relief and help them get back on their feet. We see it when we attend a recognition event to honor individuals who made a change in their lives and are ready to enter the workforce. We see it when we take a tour of a nonprofit organization we supported and see firsthand how they followed through and met their goals. We see it when our volunteers don their green Ameren Cares shirts and canvass the community to plant trees, stock food pantry shelves or build wheelchair ramps for disabled veterans.
I applaud Peoria Magazines for providing a voice to the business community to embrace our nonprofit service providers and help them succeed. Giving back can be fairly easy. Giving forward is more difficult—but it’s something every business should support. iBi