Keys to Crafting a Charitable Giving Strategy: A Q&A With Albertsons and Versaic

A Conversation with Christy Duncan Anderson of the Albertsons Companies Foundation and Andy Cummings of Versaic
Sep 6, 2017 3:00 PM ET

Keys to Crafting a Charitable Giving Strategy: A Q&A With Albertsons and Versaic

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Christy Duncan Anderson, Executive Director of The Albertsons Companies Foundation, for a conversation about what can be the Holy Grail for many corporate philanthropy teams – moving from a program-centric charitable giving focus to one that’s truly strategy-driven. Christy shared her ideas, her inspirations and well as a few lessons learned from her 6-year tenure with the organization.

Below are excerpts from our conversation, hitting some of the high points of the discussion. If you’re interested in hearing more, check out the entire conversation.

ANDY: Christy, you and I have had the opportunity to work together almost from the first day you started in this role. Your organization has gone through tremendous change and growth, making your job increasing interesting and challenging. Before we dig into that, let’s start with a basic definition. What do you see as the difference between a charitable giving program and a charitable giving strategy?

CHRISTY: I’ve thought long and hard about this question and how those two things are different. In my experience, a program is relationship-based, meaning the organizations you choose to fund are really based on relationships with those groups. Often it stems from relationships that exist at the top level of the company, perhaps around a passion that an executive has for a particular cause or non-profit.

Now this isn’t a bad thing. Relationships are great. And executive engagement is crucial. But as we moved to a giving strategy, it’s really about the impact, reporting not just on the amount of money we gave away but the impact in the community those dollars have afforded. It’s not as much about donations to organizations you like or have a personal relationship with and much more about portfolio management and cultivating a real and measurable impact in the community.

ANDY: Can you share a bit about the journey you’ve been on with this organization and how things have changed since you first started with Safeway?

CHRISTY: Starting at Safeway, we had seven different brands and a footprint of about 1,300 stores. We were always actively involved in the community and had a number of giving programs that were active and successful. We were since purchased by a private equity firm, merged with Albertsons and have grown into this massive, decentralized organization with 14 different operating areas. I often feel like I have an identity crisis because I have to know where you’re from before I can tell you who I am. If you’re in Chicago, we’re Jewel-Osco. If you’re in Northern California, it’s Safeway and in Texas, we’re Tom Thumb, among other brands.

ANDY: Right – you’ll always be Safeway for me! But talk about the challenges that come with that level of complexity. How did all that growth change what you do and how you do it?

CHRISTY: It ended up being a great opportunity to rethink what we wanted to do with all of our corporate giving programs. We needed to incorporate a new ethos and figure out a way to decentralize so that the local areas could talk about, fund and work on the giving strategies that make sense in their geographic areas. Localizing our giving was one of the big changes we went through. Having the right partners was critical for us, Versaic being one of those key partners for us. So I’ll turn the tables on you and ask how you helped us shift to a geographic focus rather than the way we had been doing things previously?

ANDY: It’s really about understanding the needs and structure of the organization and empowering them to support their communities and neighborhoods in the way that works best for them.  We needed to create a system that would route all the different kinds of requests that came in and make sure they got to the right brand or regional team to review. That included grants, charitable events, product and gift card donations from stores.  Each regional team has their own process and criteria for evaluating requests that are submitted and their own decision-making teams. You needed a solution that was flexible enough to provide the regional teams with that level of autonomy but still within a structured environment that captures all the data and that allows Christy and her team need to oversee things from corporate.

The evolution for us was to start capturing results in a strategic way so that each region can see what they’re accomplishing and the Albertsons Companies Foundation can broadly report on actual results, evaluate those results more effectively and incorporate them into the strategy. The work that the regional teams are doing is put through a national strategy lens, empowering them to make better decisions and ensure the right information is being captured for reporting across the board.

CHRISTY: Thanks for helping us manage the chaos Andy! With 14 operating areas, the challenge for me is how do I tell a story for the entire company? To tackle that, we starting by setting up impact reporting guidelines for our grantees and evaluated all the grants we made and where there were commonalities. In 2016 we made more than $25 million in charitable donations and helped 2,000 organizations. We dig deep on the data to shed light on the impact we’re making. For example, we don’t just consider the overall investment in healthcare. We look at the volume of preventative tests like mammograms and the number of people enrolled in life-saving medical trials. We look for the themes and aggregate the data, making it easier to show the impact.

But we decided we wanted to get even more focused so we talked to our customers and decided that since we’re a food company, hunger was an obvious area for us to target. We wanted a single drumbeat the entire company could march to and hunger became that rallying theme. We created a project called Hunger Is, teaming with partners to ensure that kids in all our neighborhoods have access to breakfast every day.

ANDY: That’s been an incredibly successful program and you blew past your goal of 5 million breakfasts, which is amazing. You’ve also been very creative about how you’ve shared the impact of that program. Can you talk a bit about how you did that?

CHRISTY: We collected a ton of data from the program and I wanted to make sure people really got the impact. So we put it in visceral terms– enough milk and juice to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, fruits and vegetables that weigh as much as the Statue of Liberty, dry cereal to fill 450 bathtubs – you get the idea. Looking at the data in those terms brought the whole thing to life.

ANDY: Based on conversations you and I have had, it sounds like the response to this visual impact data was really positive. Can you elaborate on that and how you’ve shared this information?

CHRISTY: Yes, the response has been fabulous. The operating groups have loved it and have shared it with stores, included it in posters that are displayed at stores. It’s really important to us to have our employees feel good about what we’re doing as well so we share this information through our internal social media channels.  The reaction at the local level has been great. On a broader, national level, we’ve also had a very positive response and we’ve incorporated this into national campaigns.  It’s been a lot of fun to see the spark this has started.

ANDY:  Thank you for spending time talking with me and sharing your story as well as for your continued relationship with Versaic.

CHRISTY:  Thank you Andy, you’ve been a great partner through all of these changes and I can’t wait to see where we can innovate together next.