When Macy's and American Express joined forces nine years ago to sponsor Passport--a fund-raiser for the fight against AIDS--such corporate action partnerships were rare. The event, a fashion show on a pier in San Francisco, city of Macy's West Coast headquarters, raised a modest $100,000.
By contrast, $2 million was raised last week at fashion shows in San Francisco and Santa Monica by a Passport partnership that has grown significantly. Dozens of companies--including manufacturers like Levi Strauss and Lincoln Mercury, retailers Virgin Megastore and Coach, and top fashion designers--provided products, services or store sales proceeds for a campaign headed by Magic Johnson and Elizabeth Taylor.
That event, which raises funds for research and for California groups that assist people with AIDS and HIV, is one of many signs that such corporate partnerships are now a fashionable and effective way to address needs in the Southland, according to Business for Social Responsibility, or BSR, a national coalition that promotes community involvement.
"We're seeing a lot more of this because corporate partnerships can apply more resources to community problems," said Barbara Lashenick, manager of BSR's Southern California chapter. "Companies are also doing it because they can [learn] the best ways to make social investments from each other."
The growth of BSR membership in Southern California is evidence of expanding interest in such information and partnerships, Lashenick said. The Southland chapter, formed by 35 companies in June 1995, now has 116 members and ranks second in size among the organization's 11 chapters.
There are more than 800 BSR members nationwide. BSR officials said retailers, consumer products manufacturers and restaurants are particularly active in the organization.
"Through community action, retailers and product makers can enhance their reputation--and that's important to businesses that sell to the public," said Bob Dunn, the San Francisco-based president of BSR.
Social action projects designed to motivate children are among those planned by Southern California BSR members. Los Angeles-based Rhino Records and LoCal No-Chol, a Westlake Village health food company, are among the companies organizing a career day Oct. 29 for youths in South Los Angeles communities.
Some children from schools in those areas will also get advice from executives early next year during an Environment Day trip to the Santa Monica Mountains. Among the many companies planning to take part are Ventura-based Patagonia, a clothing catalog and retail store operator, Los Angeles-based apparel maker Wearable Integrity, Half Moon Bay-based juice maker Odwalla and Chatsworth-based Diaper Wraps, which produces reusable diapers and clothing for infants.
Volunteers from the companies and the children will clear some of the hiking trails in the mountains during the trip.
Shopping centers are also beginning to work together. The International Council of Shopping Centers has a foundation, although officials at the trade group now want malls to do more than contribute money to a collective pool. The council this month is planning to gather and disseminate information on how shopping centers are helping certain communities individually and collectively, said John Konarski, the trade group's vice president of research.
"Hopefully, the study will motivate shopping centers that don't do enough in the community," he said. "We also hope it makes communities more aware that shopping centers have a social obligation."
As community needs and expectations rise, so must the pool of corporate talent and resources, said Michael Steinberg, chairman of Macy's West.
"A company cannot do it alone," he said. "We have to have help. We need coalitions."
George White can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com