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Philanthropy strong among all sizes of business

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) &045; From farms to small businesses to companies with 500 or more employees, the majority of Minnesota businesses believe it is important to give something back to their communities, according to a statewide survey released Tuesday.

&uot;In our area, if we don’t join with our neighbors to give back to the community, there won’t be any community left,&uot; said farmer Hollis Weber of Hazel Run, a tiny town southwest of Granite Falls.

&uot;We take the philosophy that if you can afford to give, then you should,&uot; said Deb Larsen, co-owner of Morris Electronics in Morris.

Minnesota’s large businesses have long been known for a strong tradition of giving cash, products and services and being involved in their communities, but there had been little research about small business philanthropy.

So 14 organizations and associations with strong ties to the business and philanthropy community, including the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and the Minnesota Council on Foundations, joined to form Building Business Investment in Community to strengthen business giving and community involvement.

A first step was finding out whether the same tradition of giving was true for new and emerging companies, family-owned companies and private businesses throughout the state.

BBIC received a three-year grant of $320,620 from New Ventures in Philanthropy, a national initiative of the Forum of Regional Associations of Grantmakers, and got local support from many businesses and individuals to study the issue.

The telephone survey, conducted by the Wilder Research Center from February through June, found that, on average, the 595 businesses surveyed gave 1 percent to 2 percent of their gross revenue last year in cash and other types of contributions.

A local example of charitable giving is the Hy-Vee supermarket in Albert Lea. The store recently donated $10,000 toward the construction of a local ice arena. But one of Hy-Vee’s most inventive giving methods is a charitable coupon book program that provides local organizations with a powerful fund-raising tool while also supporting the store’s bottom line.

Known simply as the &uot;Hy-Vee Fundraising Coupon Book,&uot; the fundraising program offers non-profit organizations a means of raising significant funds without overburdening the store with requests for monetary donations. The coupon book includes several offers for Hy-Vee store products, but also includes offers from the store’s vendors on a range of non-Hy-Vee product items. There are generally 35 to 40 coupons in each book.

&uot;We sell the coupon books to community organizations for $1 each, which covers our printing costs, and the organizations re-sell the book to consumers for $5,&uot; said Al Weisert, store manager at the Albert Lea Hy-Vee. &uot;Since the first coupon in the book offers Hy-Vee shoppers $5 off a grocery purchase of $50 or more, the book pays for itself almost immediately. An organization that buys 5,000 books can potentially raise $20,000 through a single fundraising effort.&uot;

When asked to look ahead to 2003, businesses were relatively optimistic about continued giving. About two-thirds of very small and small businesses and about half of medium to large businesses said they expected their charitable contributions to stay about the same. About one-fourth of all businesses said they expected their contributions to increase.

Cash was the most common contribution.

Of businesses with 20 or more employees, 88 percent had given cash in the past year. Of businesses with fewer than 20 employees, 72 percent said they had donated cash, and the very small businesses gave proportionally more of their revenue.