Helping Out: Focus groups play role in Alcoa’s giving

April 22, 2012

Who: Paula Davis, president of the Alcoa Foundation.

Company: Alcoa, a mining, manufacturing and engineering company with offices in the District.

Charitable giving highlights: Alcoa Foundation gave away $38 million to charities.

Tell me about the company’s corporate philanthropy.

The foundation was founded in 1952, and since that time contributed $450 million. We look to give away 5 percent of the value of our assets each year. We also add some corporate dollars as well. Two years ago, we met with a number of focus groups and came out with two specific themes of environment and education.

What is the structure?

Fifty percent of the foundation’s allocation each year goes toward our business units. Depending on a location’s headcount and payroll, that’s how we figure out how many dollars go to each of those divisions. We gave them a tool called the Alcoa Community Framework that helps them assess community needs, resources and risks so they can best apply their resources. The other 50 percent goes toward signature programs around environment and education.

What do you do locally?

In Washington, we have our defense business office and government affairs office, which, in total, is about 10 people. Not a lot but very important to Alcoa. We’ve made investments to Fisher House and Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

How do you get employee buy-in?

Eighty percent of our employees are frontline employees and they’re not in front of a computer. Reaching them can be a lot more difficult. You also have language issues, which can be expensive to translate. So we continually do focus groups. We did 14 last year. The second you ask them for advice, they have a vested interest in the success. Another thing we’ve done is develop more tool kits for communication leaders. Here are the materials, posters, flyers and video presentations.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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