United Way of Central Oklahoma CEO Debby Hampton expects Chesapeake Energy Corp. to remain a strong partner for the organization, despite the company's stated plans to reduce its budget by half for charitable spending, trade association dues and lobbying over the next few years.
Chesapeake on Tuesday declined to release any details about its plans to reduce spending, as announced a day earlier in a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
That has left the nonprofit organizations that rely on Chesapeake's donations wondering what the future holds.
“I just need more information to know what that means,” Hampton said. “We haven't heard from Chesapeake.”
Chesapeake's SEC filing on Monday did not reveal how much it spends on charitable giving, trade associations and lobbying, but the report states Chesapeake intends to “significantly” reduce its budget in those areas.
Chesapeake donated $31 million to charity in 2011, according to its 2011 annual report released in May. The Center for Responsive Politics shows Chesapeake spent $1.3 million on federal lobbying in the first three quarters of 2012.
The company's charitable giving in 2011 included $5.5 million to the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
“They have been giving very generously to us,” Hampton said. “They're our largest donor.”
Chesapeake's contribution — which includes donations from its employees and the company's match — accounted for nearly a quarter of the $22.2 million brought in during United Way's 2011 fundraising campaign. Last year's campaign results will be announced this month.
Hampton said Chesapeake employees also contribute as volunteers and board members for local nonprofits.
“They are a very strong partner,” like many of Oklahoma City's other large companies, she said.
Rodney Bivens, executive director of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, also is confident Chesapeake will continue to support the community.
“While we can certainly understand and appreciate when any corporation has to make difficult decisions about cutting back on their charitable gifts, we know Chesapeake and its employees will continue their commitment to communities and people,” Bivens said. “It's not always just about the dollars — their employees are regular volunteers and advocates for the food bank, and you can't put a price tag on that.”
Bivens said Chesapeake has contributed billboard space that allowed the food bank to promote holiday giving, including the company's pledge to match up to $1 million in donations.
“We anticipate continuing our long-standing relationship with Chesapeake and appreciate the many ways they assist the RFBO and other nonprofits,” he said.
Marnie Taylor, CEO of the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, said the uncertainty surrounding Chesapeake's future giving should not be a major concern to the organizations that receive contributions from the company.
She said the center teaches nonprofits to seek diverse funding sources, without becoming too reliant on one company or government agency. That means always being prepared for a source of donations to dry up.
“We should never take any of them for granted,” Taylor said.
Taylor said she hopes local nonprofits will be able to survive Chesapeake's plan to cut donations without having to eliminate staff or services.
CONTRIBUTING: Paul Monies, Business Writer