Building Communities Max Nelson  | June 29, 2018

Futureproofing: How a Commitment to Helping Children Turns $1 into $16 (and How You Can Too)

“Futureproofing” features U.S. businesses, big and small, investing in the workforce of tomorrow. Check out more at Forwardontalent.org

How do you pitch giving back as good business? And how do you make a financial services company care—really care—about making a dent in early childhood education, an issue that doesn’t show up anywhere on the balance sheet?

These were the questions that the leaders of the PNC Foundation had to answer if PNC was going to play a huge role in improving early childhood education in the communities they serve.

The research was clear and irrefutable. The benefits of quality early childhood education are not only social, but economic, with a benefit as high as $16 for every dollar invested.  And today’s preschoolers are tomorrow’s workforce.

That desire to do good, combined with the company’s desire to invest in the country’s future, led PNC to introduce PNC Grow Up Great, a bilingual initiative created to help children from birth to age 5 prepare for success in school and life, stoking a passion for reading and learning.

And it’s working.  The program has been massively successful since 2004, with the initiative assisting more than 4 million children and distributing more than $137 million in grant money to support the cause. So, how did they do it? And why did a financial services company invest in early childhood education? FreeEnterprise.com spoke to PNC Foundation Chair and President Sally McCrady about how her company gives back and how others can do the same. Here’s what she said:

1. Resist the Urge to Limit Yourself

“The notion that we, as a bank and financial services organization, are focused on quality early childhood education can catch people off guard.

“When we launched PNC Grow Up Great back in 2004, people didn’t understand the value of high-quality early childhood education as they do today—it was just starting to emerge as an important social issue.  That was a benefit to PNC because we were at the forefront and able to take a leadership position; however, building a case for ‘why early childhood education?’ also came with challenges. For both internal and external constituents, we had to connect the dots between the importance of quality early learning and the economic return on investment.”

2. Don’t Be Afraid to Change How You Do Things

“The realization that something had to change came when PNC was unable to concisely articulate its philanthropic mission, or assess the impact of its charitable giving.  Though PNC’s philanthropic giving was significant across its footprint, every market’s charitable strategy was a little bit different.

“This scattershot approach to giving was not effective.  We came to realize that a well-executed, strategic, and corporate-wide philanthropic initiative—focused on an issue that was thoughtfully identified to be important to our communities, customers, and employees—would help to make a measurable impact, generate engagement and support, and build awareness of PNC in the community.”

3. Find the Right Team

“We shaped a program that could involve every PNC employee, and we always kept in mind that we are bankers, not early childhood experts, so we engaged top experts in the field.”

4. You Don’t Just Have to Write Checks

“Around the launch of the program, corporate philanthropy looked different—it was more about writing checks, less about a holistic approach.  But PNC wanted to leverage every aspect of the corporation and its resources to drive impact.

“We organized a team of individuals from key areas across the company—human resources, government relations, corporate communications, marketing, customer/employee research and analytics, and lines of business—to support the work.  We shaped a program that could involve every PNC employee.  Ultimately, it’s the focus and unification of the multi-faceted elements that make the program unique, relevant, and successful.”

5. Ask for Help

“We are not early childhood experts. But fortunately, we can lean on our expert Advisory Council and partners for guidance. It can also be tough because PNC as a company is ever-growing and changing; however, we can depend on colleagues in all PNC markets to implement the program in ways that are tailored to meet the unique needs of their communities, which they understand very well.”

“We’ve learned how important it is to keep current on the needs and trends in early childhood education—and in our communities.  We need to stay relevant.”

**PNC is one of many U.S. businesses rethinking education and workforce issues in the U.S. Check out ForwardonTalent.org for more stories of cool companies doing cool things to strengthen the country’s workforce.