Sixth-graders play baseball in 2015 at Independence Field, which the River Cats Foundation was instrumental in bringing to south Sacramento.

When The Giving Gets Good

Family-owned businesses with generous social responsibility platforms benefit Capital Region communities.

Back Longreads Oct 10, 2017 By Laurie Lauletta-Boshart

In 2005, the Savage family, owners of the Sacramento River Cats, was instrumental in bringing River Cats Independence Field — a baseball field in south Sacramento designed to meet the needs of individuals with disabilities — to the region.

Through its River Cats Foundation, the organization contributed $250,000 in cash and services toward the project. The field, made from a custom rubberized turf, hosts a baseball league for children and adults. It also hosts nearly 600 different annual experiences, such as Wounded Warriors and Paralympic events, as part of the City of Sacramento’s Access Leisure programs, which provide sports, outdoor education, and social and fitness programs for people with disabilities.

Related: 5 Ways Your Family Business Can Maximize Philanthropic Giving

“The mission to support our local communities was one that my late husband, Art, started when he was with the San Jose Sharks, and something he wanted to continue when we moved to Sacramento,” says CEO Susan Savage. “Connecting with the community was so important and satisfying to him, and we are proud to carry that on.”

A number of the Capital Region’s most prominent family-owned businesses — like the River Cats — have made social responsibility a core tenet of their companies, employing staff and consultants to help make their programs central to who they are and how they operate.
A recent survey by J.P. Morgan Private Bank and the World Economic Forum confirms the high correlation between family business and philanthropy, where family members that cross multiple generations are actively engaged in giving back.

“Because the family is still in the legacy of not only their respective business, but more broadly in the community in which they serve, there is clearly much more at stake and much more ownership in what they are doing,” says Nick Tedesco, senior philanthropic adviser for the J.P. Morgan Philanthropy Centre, which is regionally based in San Francisco and serves domestic and international clients — a significant number of them family business owners.

The Capital Region Family Business Center, based in Roseville, recently compiled statistics from well-known family business organizations that corroborate the same thing, including that family businesses engage in higher levels of philanthropic activity, donate more to local causes and are more likely to volunteer in their communities.

The Value of Community

The River Cats organization exemplifies a family-owned business dedicated to charitable giving. The River Cats Foundation, which directs the organization’s philanthropic activities, has supported some 331 charities with $1.9 million in donations since forming in 2000. The foundation supports three types of family and youth programs on a rotating basis: athletics; art, drama and music; and academic, science and math.

For example, during the Great Recession, many high schools lacked the resources to upgrade their baseball fields, so the River Cats Foundation stepped up and has completed five different high school baseball field makeovers, which includes replanting the infield, building a new outfield wall and donating a scoreboard.

The organization also hosts about 80 elementary-school assemblies annually, which focus on attitude, attendance, academics and an anti-bullying message with the help of a guest speaker and team mascot, Dinger.

“We want the River Cats to be known as the community gathering place and we want to partner with the community,” says Savage, whose organization has collaborated with several charities through the years, including the Boys and Girls Clubs, Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services, Special Olympics, Powerhouse Science Center, Mercy Housing, Campus Life and others.
Last year, the River Cats capitalized on a new measure passed by the California state legislature, allowing professional sports teams to implement a 50/50 sports raffle. Through the program, fans in attendance can purchase raffle tickets for a nominal fee. During the seventh inning of each game, a winning ticket is drawn, with half of the proceeds going to the winning fan and the other half going to a designated charity. On a big night, the pot can be $5,000. “This is a great way for different charities to receive money,” Savage says. “We started it last year and do it every single game.”

The team’s strong presence in the community, along with its solid fan base, helped tip the San Francisco Giants in its favor when they were looking to change affiliation partners. Last year, the Giants inked a new 4-year deal with the River Cats, extending its affiliation agreement through 2020 and marking one of the few times the Giants have signed a 4-year agreement with a Triple-A affiliate.

“We like our affiliates to have good community relations experience, and share in a common belief and value system of giving back,” says Bobby Evans, senior vice president and general manager for the Giants, and the executive who oversaw the affiliation agreement. “That’s important to us and we saw that with the River Cats in how they interact with their fans and their community.”

Leveraging Assets

Founded in 1935, three generations of the Raley family have worked for the grocery business, starting with founder Tom Raley, who passed the baton to daughter Joyce Raley-Teel in 1992, and whose son Michael Teel was appointed CEO in 2010. Raley-Teel was responsible for starting the company’s Food for Families program 31 years ago with a simple canned food drive. Today, the same Raley’s nonprofit acts as a conduit between its customers and food banks, working with 74 local partners to donate dollars and offer groceries at cost.
“We are a company of 82-plus years who have always had leaders who believe in giving back,” says Becca Whitman, Raley’s community relations manager.

Raley’s purposeful giving platform focuses on sustainability, healthy lifestyles and education. The company also aligns itself with nonprofits that support education-based youth programs. One such partnership is with the California Rangeland Trust and the Central Valley Farmland Trust, where farmers and ranchers educate children on the food system, helping them understand the connection to their health.

Through Raley’s Extra Credit Program, accredited K-12 institutions can apply for wellness education grants to help youth understand food sources, proper nutrition and sustainability. Raley’s partners with the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom to support the Taste for Teach program, where teachers can use grant funds for California-grown produce and nuts, along with teacher curriculum. Funds can also pay for other supplies and programs, like creating a school garden or setting up a refillable water station.
“When nonprofits come to us for resources, we try to help them tweak their request so we can get that nutrition conversation in there,” Whitman says. “We also try to be as approachable as possible.”

For the last two years, the company has participated in the Sacramento Food Policy Council conference, a statewide event that hosts school district officials from across California. “It is an amazing opportunity to get in front of schools and a ton of school districts who hear about our focus and our grant program,” Whitman says. “That was a neat door to open for us.” Raley’s is also involved with the Food Literacy Center, which teaches low-income children about nutrition and cooking.

Through its work with the Center for Land-Based Learning, Raley’s developed partnerships with small urban farmers who now sell various commodities to its stores. Plus, this year, when the River Cats revamped its food offerings, adding new storefronts with a variety of options alongside the concession stand fare, Raley’s partnered with the team to offer healthy specialty sandwiches at the ballpark.

Engaging All Levels

Recently, the City of Davis sought to change its business banking relationship with its current supplier and sent out a request for proposal for qualified businesses. After a careful review, City staff recommended River City Bank to the City Council, citing the bank’s full-service banking capabilities, as well as its commitment to the community and social responsibility, in a letter provided to River City Bank CEO Steve Fleming (also a member of the Comstock’s editorial board). The Council approved the recommendation.

“We can directly link our activity in our social responsibility sphere with our ability to bid for and win this business,” Fleming says.

Founded in 1973 by successful radio and television entrepreneur Jon Kelly, River City Bank was his answer to what he saw as the need for a strong, locally-owned and operated bank in Sacramento. In 1988, he also founded the Kelly Foundation to direct philanthropy dollars to the community he loved. Today, the Kelly family owns a majority interest in the bank, with Jon’s daughter Shawn Kelly Devlin serving as the board chair for River City Bank and the Kelly Foundation.

The bank’s philanthropic commitment includes annual donations totaling just over $400,000 to about 50 grant recipients. One particularly impactful grant went to the Yolo Crisis Nursery. Three years ago, the nursery was in danger of closing, due to its parent company having to cut off funding. Several board members of River City Bank live in Yolo County and were familiar with the nonprofit, and Fleming’s wife, Patti, served on the crisis nursery’s board. The Kelly Foundation stepped up and committed $50,000 to keep the nursery’s doors open.

Each year, the foundation chooses an issue to support and awards a $100,000 grant to a related organization. Last year’s topic was health care and Special Olympics of Northern California was selected as the recipient. This year, the topic is homelessness, with a beneficiary to be announced in November.

River City Bank also encourages its employees to donate volunteer hours to community nonprofits. On average, employees log 800 hours per year with organizations of their choosing. “We don’t dictate what organization they should support,” Fleming says, “That’s their call. We just ask them to pick something they’re passionate about.”

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