Laura Otten has Pittsburgh envy.
That's how the director of La Salle University's Nonprofit Center would rather frame her analysis of whether Philadelphia's corporations are sufficiently generous.
"Pittsburgh has a much more generous corporate sector than Philadelphia has," she said, "and there's much more cross-sector working together in Pittsburgh — government, for-profit, nonprofit — to turn the city around."
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Statistics are hard to come by, but others agree with Otten when she says "there are other areas of the country that far exceed Philadelphia in terms of corporate generosity."
Part of the problem is that Philadelphia's corporate bench, eroded by years of being on the losing side of mergers and acquisitions, is not as strong, Otten said. There aren't enough big corporations, and the smaller ones haven't filled the gap.
"We don't have enough of it," said Ira Lubert, referring to corporate philanthropy. Lubert, who made his fortune in real estate investment, has donated more than $10 million to the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
"Other cities have more businesses and more corporate headquarters," he said.
But, "we have a lot of emerging business and a lot of those people will merge" and eventually create the kind of corporate enterprise that can support major philanthropy, said Lubert, who chairs Lubert-Adler Real Estate Funds and is cofounder of a series of investment firms linked as Independent Capital Partners.
Lubert believes more donors should up their generosity. Lubert put his money into building the United Way's Lubert Individual Development Account (IDA) Program, which provides matching funds to people saving for an education or a home.
"I think this is important to Philadelphia," he said.
A crisis galvanized Pittsburgh's funders, Otten said. As steel mills closed, "Pittsburgh was failing. The rivers were polluted and the economy was tanking, so the three sectors came together to turn it around. Whatever bonds that were made in trying to save the city have been sustained."
Sidney R. Hargro, the relatively new director of Philanthropy Network Greater Philadelphia, sees evidence of increased collaboration among Philadelphia's corporate donors especially in "what we call place-based or geographically based or issue-based giving."
The Philanthropy Network is an organization of philanthropic foundations. In 2016, in its most recent analysis of membership, the network had 149 members, including 25 corporate foundations. The majority of members were private foundations or public charities.
The United Way uniquely combines personal and corporate philanthropy through its workplace donor programs. "There is an irrefutable shift underway," said Bill Golderer, a pastor who still preaches at Arch Street Presbyterian Church, not far from the United Way, which he now leads as president and chief executive officer.
Workplace campaigns are still strong and growing at companies where the United Way has had a long relationship with the founder or top executives, he said, but when leadership changes, the United Way has to be more adept and inspirational at making its case for a continued campaign.
"The idea that this is something we should do because we always did it, like everything else, is being questioned," Golderer said.
Even with that erosion, Golderer said, this region's United Way is considered one of the strongest in the nation, based on strength derived from relationships with "corporate leaders of eras gone by, so we've been able to withstand these tumultuous times. But you're whistling `Dixie' if you think that's something we can rely on."
In fact, the generosity of these corporate leaders has "masked a large problem in our city," he said, saying that he has seen statistics that rank the region 43rd out of the nation's top 50 cities in philanthropic giving.
In Philadelphia, corporate philanthropy has taken a number of forms. Sometimes it means alphabetizing cartons of books for an elementary school library as Charles Hardy, a Comcast human resources specialist, did on Comcast Cares day in the spring. Described by Comcast NBCUniversal as the nation's largest single-day corporate volunteer event, the day brought together 10,000 volunteers who planted seeds, picked up litter, and spruced up recreational facilities, among 150 other projects. Comcast says employees gave 65,438 volunteer hours last year.
The company, headquartered here, will receive a Most Charitable Volunteerism award Monday as part of the Inquirer Corporate Philanthropy Conference and Awards event at the Crystal Tea Room.
Sometimes local corporate philanthropy takes the form of in-kind giving. In 2017, for example, OPDecision LLC, a Marlton, N.J., company that specializes in reducing wireless costs for companies, provided $211,233 of in-kind wireless auditing, optimization, and implementation to nonprofits. That earned OPDecision a Most Charitable In-Kind honor for Monday's event.
And sometimes corporate philanthropy comes in the form of leadership, when top executives bring their expertise to the nonprofit sector. Phil Weinberg, executive vice president and general counsel of Comcast Spectacor, chairs the Philadelphia Futures board and sits on three others — Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, and Flyers Charities. His efforts will be recognized with a Leadership Award at the philanthropy conference.
"What I think about is that we live in a global community," Weinberg said. "We don't live in separate pockets. We have an opportunity to give our good fortune so that all boats can rise."
Nationally, corporate giving has been trending up, reaching $20.77 billion in 2017, up 5.7 percent from 2016 and more than double what corporations gave in 1999, the first year corporate giving crossed the $10 billion threshold, according to "Giving USA," an annual study of U.S. philanthropy conducted by Indiana University's Lilly Family School of Philanthropy for the Giving USA Foundation.
The dollars are up, but corporate generosity has declined, if measured in terms of pretax profits. In 1986, corporations donated 2 percent of pretax profits, Giving USA reported. Now, corporations give 0.9 percent, despite record high profits, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.
Even so, troubled bank Wells Fargo pledged to up its 2018 donations by 40 percent to $400 million, with plans to give away 2 percent of profits starting in 2019. On a rainy Saturday in May, $200,000 from the bank bought paint, supplies, and pizza as volunteers from the bank, City Year, and the community showed up to transform William Cramp Elementary School on North Mascher Street.
"People call this area the Badlands," said principal Deanda Logan, watching as new murals brightened the library, hallways, gym, and cafeteria at the 520-student school in a Philadelphia neighborhood where every child qualifies for free breakfasts and lunches. "We're in the camp of believing that these are Goodlands."