ExxonMobil Corporation didn’t donate nearly $100 million last year just to say it’s a good corporate citizen. It didn’t continue the country’s most generous educational matching gift program just to put smiles on the faces of its employees. And it didn’t help bring the history of the state of Texas to the giant screen just so folks can tip their 10-gallon hats to the world’s largest energy company.
For Irving, Texas-based ExxonMobil, corporate philanthropy is about more than just benevolence, goodwill, or even public relations. It’s about creating conditions where science- and research-based corporations can thrive.
“We think our philanthropy creates business conditions beneficial to the company,” said Ed Ahnert, president of the ExxonMobil Foundation and manager of the company’s corporate giving programs.
“For example, when we invest in better science, mathematics, and engineering education programs, we increase the supply of quality employees to the company. Having what we call ‘science-savvy’ citizens is beneficial to the entire country, and to the company as well.”
Since ExxonMobil has operations in nearly 200 countries and territories, those interests are immensely broad, ranging from the battle against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa to training 28,000 pre-college science teachers in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
In 2002, ExxonMobil’s philanthropy amounted to $98 million. More than half of that was funneled through the foundation, which has no endowment and is funded annually by the company. The rest came through gifts made directly by the corporation. About 70 percent of all ExxonMobil’s giving was targeted for the United States, the rest divided among 75 other countries.
The oil industry can fluctuate wildly, with boom and bust times, but ExxonMobil has been a steady giver. The recent trend line has only one dramatic dip or spike, in 2001, when $21 million in previously unbudgeted gifts were given in the aftermath of September 11. “We have a very long view about our business and we take the same approach in our philanthropy,” said Ahnert, a 26-year veteran with the company who has spent half of that time managing its philanthropy. “We know that when times get tough, we’re only hurting others if we pull back.”
What is now ExxonMobil was founded in 1882 by one of history’s most famous philanthropists, John D. Rockefeller, who formed the Standard Oil Trust. With an emphasis on education, Ahnert likes to think ExxonMobil’s philanthropy would make Rockefeller proud.
Recent projects include:
Save the tiger. Concerned that the world’s wild tiger population is only 5 percent of what it was a century ago, ExxonMobil, in cooperation with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, has contributed more than $10 million in the last nine years to, among other things, field research, protection of habitat, and reduction of tiger poaching in Asia. The company, known for putting a tiger in your tank, has used the big cat as a marketing symbol for a century.
Educational matching gifts. When employees and retirees contribute up to $5,000 a year to colleges and universities they are affiliated with, Exxon triples the donation. In 2002, such gifts were given to more than 900 colleges and universities, exceeding $22 million including both the employee and retiree gifts and the triple match.
“Texas: The Big Picture.” The first giant-screen film about the gargantuan state is an example of focusing philanthropy where the company does its business. The film is playing at an IMAX theatre at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin and will continue for another 10 years, thanks in part to a $1.5 million gift from the foundation.
Nonprofit internships. Since 1971, ExxonMobil has provided $5.2 million to support nearly 2,700 summer internships for college students working for nonprofits. The program is active in Alabama, Alaska, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming.
With such a rich philanthropic history, why did ExxonMobil see a need to join the Philanthropy Roundtable? Ahnert said it’s all about common values, such as freedom, the rule of law and an emphasis on individual choice.
Plus, he wants “to pirate good ideas” from other associates.
“I hope,’’ said Ahnert, ”to be able to learn from other philanthropic practitioners. None of us in this business are as smart as we could be.“