Tulsa Giving: Low Profile Philanthropy Abounds
The holiday season: you might say it’s a place like Tulsa’s time to shine. That’s because Tulsa is a famously giving city.
A report from the Chronicle of Philanthropy earlier this year ranked Tulsa 18th in total contributions, out of more than 11,000 towns and cities.
With names like Kaiser, Schusterman, Helmerich, Warren and dozens of others widely recognized by Tulsans, that ranking comes as no surprise.
But what do those millions looks like in action? In this series, we take a look at philanthropy, and how it’s operating among the people whose names aren’t on the buildings.
On the Ground
Kendall Whittier residents finish munching on rice, beans and tortillas as this year’s last monthly dinner meeting begins. The dinners are one part of a Community Action Project effort, called Kendall-Whittier Growing Together, to revitalize the neighborhood.
CAP’s Resident Engagement Coordinator for the Kendal Whittier neighborhood, Sherlane Cintron, gets things started, as she does every meeting, by explaining, in English and Spanish, a little bit about the program.
“Growing together strategy is a strategy that works to help the children around this neighborhood,” Cintron said, “and also the families and parents and everybody who live in Kendall Whittier, to have a better life in Kendall Whittier.”
“Really the goal,” said Karen Kiely, CAP Chief Operating Officer, “is to implement a comprehensive set of solutions, in a place-based manner, to bring about dramatic transformation.”
CAP’s primary focus is early childhood education as the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. But Kiely says it’s not as simple as providing young children a quality experience during school hours.
“Children don’t exist on their own, they exist in a family unit,” she said, as well as in a neighborhood.
“That is why we’ve really embraced this neighborhood revitalization effort,” she said, “because it extends from the child to the family to the whole community around that family, being the support system for the child.”
The dinner meetings, plus a series of smaller meetings in residents’ homes, called NeighborhoodCircles, and other outreach efforts are the first stage in that revitalization effort, says Diana Downing, who lives in the neighborhood and serves as a Resident Leader with Growing Together. The efforts are meant to identify the area’s major challenges.
“Safety, education, kids walking to and from the school with drugs, dogs, everything, domestic violence, there was just a whole range of things,” she said. “Their priorities we assumed would be mostly educational, but there was a lot more to it than that.”
“You know, if you don’t know people, then you don’t really know what everybody’s problems are,” Downing said, “and it’s really amazing how we really have found there is so much in common with our neighbors that a lot of us didn’t know.”
The planning phase is wrapping up, both here and in the Eugene Field neighborhood, where a similar effort is underway. Implementation, based on what residents have said is important to them, is set to begin in the coming months.
Both parts have relied heavily on Tulsa’s philanthropic community, especially the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which has pledged to match a substantial grant that the neighborhood is hoping to receive for the implementation phase.
In the meantime, however, neighborhood meetings like this are already helping to improve life for residents.
Nataly Delgado is also on the Kendall Whittier Resident Council. She says that meeting the people in her neighborhood has already made it feel safer.
Neighbors can let each other know when they’re working, so that they can be alert for strange cars or other things that might be out of place.
“We try to make a friendship with the neighbors,” she said, “and try to know each other.”
Delgado and the other residents here are hopeful about the future of the neighborhood, though the transformation will likely take several years.
They can count on Tulsa’s biggest givers, however: if the program isn’t awarded the national grant this week, the George Kaiser Family Foundation and others like United Way have pledged funding to allow many of the planned improvements to move forward.
Companies like Williams, Bank of Oklahoma and QuikTrip are known for being major philanthropic givers in Tulsa. Names like theirs and other big companies are hard to miss on lists of sponsors for various local initiatives.
But it’s not just big companies that give. Our series looking at the lower profile side of giving continues with a visit to one company quietly making ‘giving back’ a part of its culture, with a little help from Tulsa’s famously productive chapter of the United Way.
Selco LLC’s plain brick building in east Tulsa gives little clue about the delicate manufacturing going on inside.
Selco is a watch company—a watch personalization company, to be more specific. It customizes watches for companies who want to offer them as incentives or for awards.
During a tour of the facility, President and CEO Mark Abels mentions Selco’s daily production capacity.
“We can ship as many as probably six, seven hundred watches a day,” he said.
That’s with just around 35 employees.
“In here,” he said, “all of it’s hand done.”
The staff of about three dozen employees Ables has making all of this happen was once not so large. He says the recession took a big bite out of his business and out of Selco’s payroll.
“People cut back on awards first,” he explained. “We went from about 30 people to about 18.”
Abels says another thing that stopped during that period was Selco’s contributions to the United Way during its annual fundraising campaign.
“Really, we didn’t stop contributing because we wanted to,” he said, “it just sort of went away more than it was a conscious decision.”
A New Opportunity
Selco survived the recession. And as it was recovering, something new was happening at the United Way.
“Starting three years ago,” said Mark Graham, President and CEO of the Tulsa Area United Way, “QuikTrip funded a challenge grant, and it was intended to help us target small businesses.”
“It enabled us to have a conversation,” he said, “with a small business, and say: ‘to the extent that you’ll let us help educate your employees about community, community needs, services that are available to them should they need it, and the extent to which they will make a financial contribution to this campaign, QuikTrip will match their contribution dollar for dollar.’”
Graham says it’s resulted in hundreds of small businesses contributing, and continuing to contribute from year to year.
“It was one of those ‘Ah ha!’ moments,” Graham said. “Okay this can work, this can resonate, and we can help small businesses see that they too can play with all of the big players.”
Giving Handed Down
Mark Abels is the third generation to run his family’s small business, which was one that participated in the challenge grant. He says he was glad to be able to give again, because it’s always been an important part of the company’s culture.
“My parents taught me early on that it was an important thing,” he said.
“I always knew what they did, and as soon as I got here and signed up to start getting a paycheck at Selco,” he recounted, “the controller who signed me up said, ‘Alright, you’re donating to the United Way,’ and he didn’t really give me any choice, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way anyway.”
Ables points out that almost all of of Selco’s business comes from outside Tulsa, so giving back to the community isn’t something that necessarily benefits his business from the sales side. But, he says, in order to produce, it’s important to have a strong community for the employees.
“When we see employees who have needs,” he said, “we can suggest different things that the United Way helps provide, and it all ties together very nicely.”
Abels says Selco hasn’t yet gotten involved other than with the campaign—it didn’t have a team compete in the Route 66 Marathon, for instance. But, he says, business is good right now. Those kinds of things will be coming to Selco, in the not-too-distant future.
In part three of our series, we hear a story from givers who aren’t on the level of Tulsa’s famous names. But these University of Tulsa students are planning to change that.
Major Donors Are Common
With an epithet like “America’s most generous city” it’s not hard to find people in Tulsa whose job it is to work with people who make major donation. People like Susan Harris at the Tulsa Regional Chamber.
“It’s just really wonderful, because you know,” Harris said, “if in Tulsa you have a serious need, and you articulate it appropriately, there are people who are going to help you address it.”
Or like Phil Lakin, the CEO of the Tulsa Community Foundation, which exists to help those who want to give their money away match up with organizations that need it the most.
“If you’re going to do business in this town,” Lakin said, “then you are also going to invest back in this town, in our charitable organizations.”
People like Harris and Lakin don’t have any trouble imagining that this culture of giving will continue in Tulsa. But Lakin does point out one potential issue that he sees: “That we’re not generating wealth, or new philanthropists, at the rate that we once were.”
A professor at the University of Tulsa, however, just finished up a class during the fall semester with the aim of doing just that: generating new philanthropists.
A Learned Behavior
On a Thursday night, TU students in a class called Entrepreneurial Philanthropy are being treated to a theatrical lesson on mixing business with giving.
An IRS agent and a local businessman are role-playing an audit of some questionable tax forms. It’s for a lesson on the gray areas that can occur when running a company and giving charitably.
Phil Haney, an attorney in Tulsa, is the adjunct faculty professor of Entrepreneurial Philanthropy.
A book, called “Giving 2.0: Transform Your Giving and Our World” by Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, caught his attention about a year ago. His law practice deals with the affairs of non-profit organizations, so he read the book.
“That got me busy wondering and thinking,” he said, “if that class is taught currently or ever has been in Tulsa. It seemed to me that it hadn’t.”
A few months and conversations with TU later, and his class, whose alternative name, he says, is Charity 101, is offered through the Collins College of Business. The philosophy of the class is simple.
“Everyone can be a philanthropist, and will be, with just a little effort,” he explained, “and that of course includes time, treasure, talent, influence, connections and things like that.”
His students see the benefit.
“It’s kind of upside down in comparison to the rest of the classes,” said one student, Alexandra Laz, a management major.
“Because we’re very, you know, we’re in the business college, business minded, kind of go-get-‘em, no time to stop and smell the roses. Whereas this class, it slows you down and makes you realize that there’s more than just the for-profit side of business.”
“There is an entire business behind private foundations and charities that I didn’t even realize,” she said.
Jeff Muehlhausen is in the College of Arts and Sciences. As an economics major, he approaches the class from a different direction.
“There’s nowhere in economics for philanthropy, at all, in our equations,” he said. “So this is kind of cool to see, it can benefit a business, it can benefit an individual.”
Both say taking the class affects their future plans.
“It makes me think about getting more hands-on and involved with the charities that I actually care about in Tulsa,” Laz said,
“and so I think it would be really neat one day, to have that be part of my spare time, to sit on one of the boards of those.”
“I want to stay in the Tulsa area,” Muehlhausen said, “so if I can get my foot in the door in a charity or private foundation, and use my econ degree, mixed with some of the classes I’m taking on philanthropy now, I could have a really good career in it in this area.”
Haney says he wants to continue offering the class, potentially opening it up to a wider population than just the student body.
So far, it seems he’s had success giving students the motivation and the tools to give back to Tulsa.
In the fourth and final part of our series on the lower profile side of giving, we have a story about the generosity of one very young Tulsan.
Learning Giving Outside the Classroom
As the CEO of the Tulsa Community Foundation, Phil Lakin has a wealth of insight into the habits of some of Tulsa’s most wealthy—and most generous.
He’s not humble about the Tulsa philanthropic community’s commitment to giving.
“We were founded in very late 1998,” he said of TCF. “And we’ve gone from being the smallest community foundation to the largest community foundation in those 13 years.”
That’s the largest in the country.
“I think that says quite a bit about the generosity of our city,” he said.
One thing he notices among many families is an effort to pass on the ethic of giving.
“We have parents or grandparents that bring their kids or grandkids in to train them, if you will,” he said, “so that when they’re not here anymore, then their kids and grandkids are carrying on the legacy that they established.”
At TCF, many of those families tend to be ones of fairly significant means. But it doesn’t take too much digging to find that very same ethic transcends income levels.
During December, the shelves in the basement of the Family and Children’s Services office at Eighth Street and Peoria Avenue are lined with toys. For the holidays, they call the space Santa’s Workshop.
It’s here that case workers with F&CS come to pick out toys for their younger clients.
“I think my youngest kid is seven months, and the oldest one is 17,” said Jessica Helt, one of the case workers.
“We’re down here shopping for them,” she said, “(we’ve) got information like their favorite colors, what they’re into. A lot of the girls said Justin Beiber, a lot of the boys said Legos.”
It’s not just shopping that’s happening on this particular afternoon. One very young donor is dropping off new toys.
Kaytlin Knaeble is seven. In fact, it was her seventh birthday when she first got involved, with a nudge from her parents, with F&CS.
“I had a skating birthday party,” Kaytlin haltingly explains—she’s very shy. “I brought H.U.G.s—hats, underwear and gloves.”
Mom Lori helps explain: “We’re inviting several kids, about forty-something.”
“We told her, ‘There’s no child that we know that needs 40 birthday gifts,’” Knaeble explained, “and gave her a couple options, and she chose the H.U.G.s option, so half of the invitations went out with that.”
After her birthday, Kaytlin decided she wanted to do a little more. Today, she’s here with her parents dropping of toys for Family and Children’s Services, half of which she used her own money to buy.
“I brought Christmas presents,” Kaytlin said.
Kaitlin spent $50 of her own money, which her parents matched, to spend on gifts. They say she was meticulous about picking gifts, and that, though she’s young, it’s important to them to teach her about giving.
“We’ve been a little bit more blessed this year with our funds,” Knaeble said. “Since we coach soccer, we see several kids that don’t have new cleats, their socks are torn up, and she starts recognizing stuff like that too, and so it’s nice to be able to help.
Though she’s shy, it’s clear that shopping for other kids is something Kaytlin Knaeble enjoys.
Her parents say they’re happy to let her do the same thing for F&CS next year.