Publication Date: Friday, March 28, 2003
Could the giving stop? Could the giving stop?
(March 28, 2003) Hailed for its charitable donations, ALZA's future as a J&J subsidiary could change donation strategies
By Diana Reynolds Roome
Some of America's largest companies have long seen the benefits in making contributions to their communities -- a tradition that goes back to the country's earliest days and arose from a genuine philanthropic impulse mixed with mostly benign self interest. Though the rationale for giving may change according to the times and an individual company's culture, it has become an important part of the financial support structure for most nonprofit organizations.
With the recent downturn in business profits, many agencies dedicated to providing free or subsidized community services are finding themselves uncertain about the make-up of next year's budgets.
Apart from the amount of money available, a change in corporate strategies for giving can also affect community nonprofit budgets. A recent ownership change of one of Mountain View's biggest corporate givers could send ripples throughout the local nonprofit landscape.
ALZA, a drug delivery company with a massive campus in North Bayshore, has cultivated a close and imaginative relationship with many local agencies. For the past eight years, Lucinda Tatman, ALZA's community relations manager, has guided the transfusion of funds and other resources from ALZA into nonprofit organizations of Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and Solano County (where ALZA has its primary manufacturing plant).
"The money was small but there was a strong focus," says Tatman, who recently received the Athena Award from the Mountain View Chamber of Commerce for her work with the community. "The best part of my job is to identify an issue that needs to be addressed, find out who is doing the work in that area and who is needy. Then we get round a table, define the issues and go to work to create social change."
But since healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson acquired ALZA in 2001, it posited a somewhat different strategy for corporate giving. The repercussions of this are not yet clear, and local nonprofits seem optimistic that ALZA will stay involved
A new strategy
Johnson & Johnson is one of the largest charitable donors in the healthcare industry, and has a history of giving that goes back to the days of its founder, Robert Wood Johnson, in the mid 1930s. Consistently named one of the most generous corporations in America, Johnson and Johnson also looks for a large and long-term impact from its charitable investments.
One such flagship project currently underway is a partnership with Andrew Hill High School in East San Jose, to jump-start a Nursing Academy. Tatman, who came up with the original idea, said the talent and expertise in a medical magnet school could help address the problem of a massive nursing shortage in California.
In addition to such projects, a large proportion of Johnson & Johnson's charitable funding is directed through the United Way -- a nationwide giving campaign -- which deducts a chosen donation from employees' payroll checks. Individuals can designate one of the agencies served by United Way, and their gifts are matched by the company.
"Because we know people have personal affiliations, their giving can be very specific," said Gwen Roberts, senior account manager of United Way Silicon Valley. "People want to give, and this is an easy venue. If anything, the agencies will be receiving more because ALZA now has an organized giving structure in place."
It is not yet clear how Johnson & Johnson's giving program will influence ALZA's, although local nonprofits are hoping the company's locally focused funding structure will remain.
"They've been terrific," said Monique Kane, director of the Community Health Awareness Council, which has received funding from ALZA for years. "Of course, it would be bad to lose funding, but it's not what's going to make or break our agency."
A local focus
When ALZA came to Mountain View, Tatman was entrusted with the job of finding appropriate recipients of charitable investments, with a mandate to improve the quality of life through education, health and human services, art and culture.
Tatman's approach has been to build local networks, keep her ear to the ground, and find out where good nonprofit services are being offered and what their needs are.
"If there is a check, there should be a relationship, too," said Tatman. "My approach is to leverage the knowledge and trust that is present in partnerships."
This way, she has been able to discover the most effective ways to help with a limited budget. Sometimes, an organization with strong assets in terms of volunteers might be stuck due to the lack of even small amounts of funding. ALZA has been able to jump-start or bridge some of them over a difficult patch.
"We consider Alza to be one of our great partners in the community," said Tom Myers, executive director of Community Services Agency of Mountain View and Altos. "Their contributions have been as high as $10,000 or $20,000" annually.
Locally, ALZA has helped fund the RotaCare Free Clinic at El Camino Hospital, the county's Health Kids medical insurance program, the annual Diversity Youth Forum, the first pain management conference for the Mountain View-based organization For Those in Pain, and numerous other organizations and projects.
Outside Mountain View, ALZA has funded dozens of other projects, working with hospitals, charities and other nonprofits.
Now, because funding that goes through United Way won't be traceable in the same way to ALZA, some of the positive connection between the company and community is in danger of being lost. Company representatives say they intend to remain involved in numerous other ways. Employees offer volunteer hours to efforts like Habitat for Humanity, Second Harvest Food Bank, and Earth Day.
In many cases, gifts come in the form of the company's most precious resource -- the skill and knowledge of its employees. Some act as mentors to students at the Biotech Academy at AHHS, and will offer mentoring to the Nursing program next year. ALZA also lends advisors to local schools and Science and Engineering Fairs for students.
One of Tatman's main principles all along in creating community partnerships has been to build in a self-sustaining independence that is the mark of good corporate patronage. "From day one, you start thinking about the long-term impact of what you're doing," says Tatman. "By reaching all levels, and building a shared vision of the problem, we can create sustainable solutions. When the environment shifts, the partners have to be willing to rearrange their resources in a way that continues to contribute to the solution. The challenge rests with them to maintain or renew their vision."