When Ellen DeGeneres receives the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the John F. Kennedy Center on Oct. 22, laughing along will be sponsor Capital One Financial Corp. (COF)’s president of retail and direct banking, Jonathan Witter.
“When a corporation is in a major city, they want to be a good corporate citizen,” said Marie Mattson, the vice president for development at the Kennedy Center, which she said raises $80 million annually. The center had a $5.8 million surplus last year, Mattson said, a rare feat for an arts organization.
Good corporate citizenship, a big theme in an election year, is a hardy perennial for nonprofits. In the years following the 2008 financial crisis, corporate donations dried up. As the autumn gala season gets under way, many of Washington’s cultural organizations and philanthropies are coping with an uneven recovery.
Companies for a time “felt it was inappropriate to give, especially to a ball,” Mattson said. But the grip on the pursestrings “is definitely loosening up a little bit.”
General Dynamics Corp. (GD) brings 17 years of support to the 44th Annual Meridian Ball that closes the Meridian International Center’s Global Leadership Summit. The company’s chairman and chief executive, Jay Johnson, and his wife, Sydney McNiff Johnson, will serve as co-chairmen of the Oct. 12 ball.
Johnson declined to disclose his company’s gift to Meridian, but said, “We are very disciplined in the way we contribute.”
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) and Teva Neuroscience Inc. will each give $50,000 to Wednesday’s Ambassadors Ball for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, National Capital Chapter. Boeing Co. (BA), Duke Energy Corp. (DUK), Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and General Motors Co. (GM) are among other companies making $25,000 donations. Senator Bob Casey, Pennsylvania Democrat, and Representative Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican, are the honorees.
Corporate backers are wary of spending cash yet understand the value of “entertaining and the mix-and-mingle,” Mattson said.
Jay Johnson said events like the Meridian Ball offer a chance at “public and private diplomacy,” especially for a company like his with an international presence. “It’s money well spent. It’s an investment.”
Chevron Corp. (CVX), FedEx Corp., and PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP are sponsoring the PEN/Faulkner Gala tonight which will endow the PEN/Faulkner Prize for Fiction and the Writers in Schools program. Coca-Cola Co. (KO), SunTrust Foundation and Northern Trust Corp. (NTRS) are among the supporters of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which will celebrate its 25th Anniversary Fall Benefit with Melissa Etheridge on Nov. 4.
“It is tough and a challenge to get sponsors this year,” Shamim Jawad, the founder of the Ayenda Foundation, wrote in an e-mail. Jawad, the wife of former Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad, is trying to wrangle donors a month before the foundation’s dinner, which raises money for Afghan children. It will be held on Oct. 10 at the home of British Ambassador Peter Westmacott.
“From my past experience, everything comes together in the last three weeks before the event,” she said
For the first time, Mars Inc., will be the primary corporate sponsor of the annual “Opera in the Outfield,” a free broadcast of Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at Nationals Park on Sept. 29.
Carlyle & Co.’s David Rubenstein and Daniel D’Aniello, and Mars Vice President Jacqueline Badger Mars are among the chief donors of the Washington National Opera, which kicks off its season with a gala and a performance of Donizetti’s “Anna Bolena” on Sept. 15. Rubenstein, chairman of the Kennedy Center, and his wife, Alice, donated $10 million last year, making them its biggest donors to date.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company is looking to cultivate the next generation of Rubensteins. F. Murray Abraham will receive the Will Award at the Oct. 15 gala, and then young donors will be invited to attend an after-hours dance party for a reduced ticket price. American Airlines Inc. and British Airways Plc are among corporate donors.
Here’s a selection of Washington D.C.-area benefits through December. Sept. 10: PEN/Faulkner Gala Folger Shakespeare Library Sept. 13: Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute 35th Anniversary Awards Gala Washington Convention Center Sept. 28: Susan G. Komen for the Cure Honoring the Promise Gala Kennedy Center Oct. 12: 44th annual Meridian Ball Oct. 22: Mark Twain Prize for Humor at the Kennedy Center Nov. 29: Arthur M. Sackler 25th Anniversary Gala Freer Sackler Galleries Dec. 2: Kennedy Center Honors Kennedy Center
(Stephanie Green is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)
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