Stipe, administrator of the Little Lighthouse Learning Center in Lorain, oversees the preschool and daycare facility that serves 76 children, many of whom are from low-income families.
This year, a $13,000 shortfall threatened to close the center’s doors, but the Nordson Corp., through its foundation, stepped in to make up the difference.
“If we didn’t receive the money when we did, we probably wouldn’t be in operation right now,” says Stipe. “Nordson has been very generous to us. They have kept us afloat.”
Nordson’s giving didn’t stop with the $13,000 grant many of those who use the center’s services are in need of basic items, and Nordson’s employees made sure they got them.
“(Nordson employees) came forward and provided household items for the families and also did a wonderful book drive where hundreds of books were passed on to teachers in our classrooms for the kids to take home,” says Stipe. “The kids were very excited about that. Nordson has been like a little guardian angel looking over our shoulder, and we really appreciate their support.”
Nordson’s dedication to giving back to the community shouldn’t come as any surprise. The company is dedicated enough to philanthropy that it gives away 5 percent of its pre-tax domestic profits each year, something it has been doing since its inception in 1954. In fact, giving back to the community is a fundamental part of the company’s culture.
“In 2004, we invested $2.3 million of our profits back to our foundation and other community activities that we are associated with,” says Edward Campbell, Nordson’s chairman and CEO. “This year, that will grow to $2.7 million. For a company of our size, just over $800 million in revenue, that’s a very big number here in Northeast Ohio.
“We’re very proud of that, and it’s an important aspect of the culture we have at this company that we believe in sustaining and supporting.”
One of the vehicles Nordson uses to give back is the Nordson Corp. Foundation, of which Campbell and four other corporate staff members serve as trustees.
“Out of our grant-making money, we allot money to sites where we have large numbers of employees, but the majority of grant-making is here in Northeast Ohio where we have our headquarters and where we were founded,” Campbell says. “It is also where we have the highest concentration of employees and shareholders.
“A company does not need to have a foundation to have an active and successful corporate contribution program. We established the foundation quite a number of years ago because we wanted to be able to decouple the volatility that inherently exists in a capital goods producer like Nordson from a giving program that would struggle if they had to suffer the same volatility.”
Because the amount of money the corporation gives away each year is based on a percentage of profits and can vary based on whether the economy is booming or in a recession the amount of money charities would receive would fluctuate as well, creating problems in their budgeting. Channeling the money through the foundation removes that risk.
“We recognize organizations in the community we support put greater value and higher dependence on steady streams of contribution income,” says Campbell.
Through the foundation, community organizations are able to receive the consistent funding levels needed for stability.
“What you probably could do if you wanted to have steady contributions is in good times contribute a smaller amount of profits and in the bad times step it up a bit and give more by deferring some of those high-profit years to fund shortfalls in profits that might come in a down year,” Campbell says. “We think it’s helpful to the people we support if we can provide them some sort of steady support over time.”
Nordson and its foundation issue grants primarily in four categories: Education, human services, the arts and to community organizations such as Little League Baseball. About 40 percent of total giving goes to education and another 40 percent goes to human services organizations that help people in need either temporarily or long term. The other two categories receive about 10 percent each.
Philanthropy is ingrained into the corporate culture at Nordson and is an important goal for everyone.
“I’ve been here for 17 years, but our culture was well established long before I came on the scene,” says Campbell. “It’s one that’s not just about taking profits and helping organizations that help people in need, but engaging the employee population as well in giving back their energy, talents and personal resources to these organizations.
“We support that culture and look for ways to reinforce it. Everything is entirely voluntary. There is never any pressure, whether it be formal or informal, to influence people.”
The company has a program called “TnT,” which stands for Time ’n Talent. Employee leadership committees organize projects for volunteers to work on., and the employees choose which projects to do.
“It’s very much employee-driven,” says Campbell. “We don’t sit here and say, ‘All right, I think we should support this organization or that organization.’ It’s something the employees themselves in local sites and the community affairs committees decide.”
The company provides the resources the committees need to make the projects successful, but volunteering is done on the employees’ own time.
“When you are running an organization, you need staff to answer calls and that sort of stuff, and pulling people away was hurting customers and hurting the organization,” says Campbell. “The company is highly supportive in terms of providing them resources to the extent that they need it.”
For example, when employees were working on a Habitat for Humanity home, Nordson picked up the cost of the building materials at the corporate level.
“Employees were giving their time and talent, and correspondingly, we backed them up financially,” says Campbell.
The company provides as many ways as possible to get people involved in philanthropy, including letting them pick their own personal causes that Nordson will help them support.
“We have a matching gift program where we will match any gift of an employee to a tax-exempt organization up to $6,000 a year,” says Campbell. “Plus, we will match any amount given to the United Way without limit. In the case of Hurricane Katrina Red Cross relief, we also pledged to match any amount an employee gives without limit as well.”
The company also supports grants to organizations in which employees are involved in leadership positions. All of these different commitments help reinforce the culture of giving, but there are other ways to instill a similar culture at a company.
“One of the most important ways is to let employees know that it is important,” says Campbell. “I also strongly believe that volunteers should be just that there should be no pressure or it will undermine the enthusiasm. Communicate to folks in the organization that you are proud they volunteer and support them. We state it as part of our corporate values.”
Give public recognition to those who volunteer. Nordson prints a companywide newsletter highlighting employee achievements and lists of organizations where money was donated, along with thank yous to everyone involved. And it lists upcoming projects to help spur interest.
Leading by example is also important.
“I’ve built Habitat houses, built playgrounds for Boys Clubs and served on boards for organizations,” says Campbell. “When we talk about giving time and talent, you can sit in meetings and help in that way.”
Supporting employees any way you can will help foster a giving culture.
“It all feeds on itself,” says Campbell. “Talk about it in your broader communications with employees. When people come to the organization as new employees, that’s one of the things they first learn about. We have a reputation in the community that’s associated with philanthropy, and there’s a positive reaction people get when others find out they work at Nordson.”
Any philanthropic activity requires a plan to achieve maximum results.
“Do it wisely in way that can have a positive impact where the outcome the return on your grant-making investment is high,” says Campbell. “Invest in organizations with great leaders that will really have an impact on people’s lives. It takes time. Like any other business activity, you have to organize it, you got to have good people and you gotta have a strategy.”
Part of that strategy is choosing which charities to focus your efforts on.
“I believe there is tremendous benefit in getting out and visiting organizations you might want to support,” says Campbell. “While we have a foundation staff that does the preliminary screening process, I see positive results from our trustees, including myself, in visiting organizations we are considering supporting.”
For example, Campbell went to a preschool education and daycare center and heard first-hand from the staff and parents who use the facility what effect the facility had on their lives. Having that first-hand communication helps him and the foundation staff make better decisions.
Companies should also focus their efforts to maximize their effect in the community.
“You gotta have a strategy,” says Campbell. “A strategy is the filter one uses to select a charity. If you don’t have a strategy, you don’t know how to say yes or no to every well-run organization that comes through your door.
“What we do is look for innovation where our grant-making can have a multiplier effect. For example, in many cases people are not able to make a step in climbing the economic ladder because of some limitation: child care, lack of training or something else. If we can find an organization that is well-run with outstanding leaders who can help people move to the next level and become self-sustaining and contributors to our community, those are the organizations we like to support.
“Other foundations and companies have different strategies, but by having a strategy, it keeps you focused and provides the opportunity to have the greatest impact with the grant-making program that you have.”
When you do find success with instilling volunteerism in your company or having a positive effect on your community, take whatever publicity comes with it without regret, says Campbell.
“As a manufacturer of factory equipment, our customer is not the people on the street but the people who run factories,” says Campbell. “There is not a lot of benefit for Nordson in terms of the marketing or PR of these activities. So it’s not an issue for us. It is an issue from some companies, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with [getting publicity for your philanthropic work].
“Getting positive feedback through community affairs means everybody wins. You see it at activities in Northeast Ohio. You see supermarkets and radio stations and TV stations, and I think that’s a great thing. Corporations and individuals are involved in giving back to the community, and I think getting publicity from it is fine.”
There are also some indirect benefits from being charitable.
“There are a lot of intangible benefits that come from giving back to your community,” says Campbell. “It includes employee retention, up-front recruitment, making your company a more desirable place to work, getting good support from your suppliers, getting positive responses from customers and from the shareholders. There is a positive, if immeasurable, benefit, that having a volunteer program is good business.”
In 2005, more than 80 organizations in three states benefited from Nordson’s generosity with grants ranging from $150 to $100,000.
Walter Nord founded Nordson Corp. with philanthropy as one of its key principles. That tradition has been carried on by the Nord family and the leadership of the corporation ever since.
The results are millions of dollars given away to charitable causes, thousands of hours of volunteer time and a giving program that is one of the most admirable in the nation. Few other companies in the country can claim a commitment to philanthropy that matches Nordson’s.
“We are still proud of our heritage from a small family-owned company and our employees are proud that we have a value system that believes in giving back to the community,” says Campbell.
The kids at the Little Lighthouse Learning Center in Lorain are proud of Nordson Corp., too.
HOW TO REACH: Nordson Corp., www.nordson.com, (440) 892-1580