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Corporate Giving

By Sherri Gardner Howell

“We would like to thank our Sponsors.”

The proclamations are front and center at every gala, every golf tournament, every 5k run, every work day and every plated dinner in Knoxville raising funds for a charity or arts organization. Business leaders and individuals in the community who pony up funds for an event before the first ticket is sold are the lifeblood of local 501(c)3 organizations.

Understanding the “whys” of public support is easy, ranging from a cause that pulls at your heart strings to a fun way to have an evening out.

But what about corporate support? What motivates local businesses to give tens of thousands of dollars each year to help keep local nonprofits in the black?

VIP Knoxville asked that question to three businesses that have demonstrated impressive generosity to important causes in the Knoxville area.


As Cherokee Distributing celebrates 60 years of business, organizations in the 61 communities they serve also have reason to celebrate. You won’t find any argument about this: Cherokee Distributing is a good corporate citizen.

“Giving back to the communities where we live and do business is part of the core values we learned from our parents,” says Director of Corporate Philanthropy Mary Ellen Sampson Brewington, daughter of George and Nancy Sampson, who started Cherokee Brewing in 1958. “Taking care of your community was at the center of how my dad’s generation understood philanthropy. You have to support those causes that make life better in the communities where you work and where your employees work.”

In keeping with that philosophy, all the organizations Cherokee supports are communitybased. “This industry lends itself to that,” says Brewington. “We look at the things that affect our employees and our communities, and we support those organizations that help people reach their fullest potential.”

That takes many forms, says Brewington. “Access to food, education, good health, jobs, mental health programs, safety… all these are things that make a community a good place to live and do business. Then you also have to consider the arts because it is important to have a great museum and a great symphony to attract people and corporations. It impacts our economic growth.”

On the flip side of that, says Brewington, is Cherokee’s responsibility to be good stewards of the money they donate. “I take my job very seriously, and I expect those organizations that reach out to us to take themselves and their mission seriously. I represent 425 people who work really, really hard every single day, and it is important to be smart about where we put our money.”That often means that Cherokee is doing more than just writing a check, says Brewington.

“I check in with the groups we partner with, and I expect follow-up from them. If our name is going to be associated with an endeavor, I want to be sure it is being handled in a business-like way.”

Corporate support for non-profits in East Tennessee is high not only because of the willingness of companies like Cherokee to give back, but because of the generosity of the East Tennessee people, says Brewington.

“This is one of the most generous communities anywhere,” she says. “It is not just at the corporate level – although we do see a lot of super generous corporations here. But it’s also individuals: ordinary people engaged in helping each other. As a fundraiser, you know that a $20 personal donation is just as impactful as a $20,000 corporate donation because of the passion behind that $20 gift.”


It’s in the charter, says David Reynolds, president and CEO of Home Federal Bank of Tennessee. For more than 95 years, Home Federal has carried out its chartered mandate to “serve the community.”

“We are a local community bank,” says Reynolds. “We live and breathe right here in this community. Our philosophy is that we are all in this together, and it takes all of us being a part of this community to make it work.”

That attitude doesn’t fall on deaf ears in Knoxville, says Reynolds. “This really is the volunteer state. There are so many people doing so many great things in this community. The attitude in Tennessee, particularly East Tennessee, is: We are going to give of our time, effort and our money, and we even go beyond that. In this community, people see a need, and they find a way to meet that need, and they bring others along with them.”

With more than 400 employees, Home Federal represents a wide range of ages and interests, Reynolds points out. “That is also a lot of helping hands. When you add in our customers, we can make quite an impact.”

Projects like Mission of Hope have the advantage of checking all the boxes. “During the holidays, we tend to look at essential needs: Second Harvest, Volunteer Ministry, KARM, United Way,” says Reynolds. “One effort that I really love and that touches a lot of our employees is the help we give Mission of Hope. Our Blue Barrel Drive at our branches in November and December is so important to us and to Mission of Hope. It gets our customers involved as well as they drop off toys, coats and hats. That’s a winner all across the board.”

Having a long-view of community also helps Home Federal decide where to concentrate their efforts. “Having been in the market for so long, we have the benefit of seeing a lot of organizations that consistently do a great job for our community.”

Habitat for Humanity is a prime example. Home Federal Bank is Knoxville Habitat’s longest-standing covenant partner, having just marked 28 years. Covenant partners provide funding to help build a Habitat home plus significant manpower to aid in construction.

“We love partnering with Habitat,” says Reynolds. “It’s fun for the employees, you get to see the results and you get to interact with a variety of other companies and community groups.”

Hands-on is a big part of what Home Federal does with community groups and charities, but the bank doesn’t skimp on monetary support.

“Within our organization, we also think it is important to give of our blessings,” says Reynolds.

“Last year, our contributions were over $1 million with more than 200 sponsored activities. That is over 10 percent of our net income, and we are fairly consistent about giving at that level.”

Sometimes that monetary giving is done in partnership with the city or other organizations. “As a business, we also give our support to things that are good for this city, like the Holiday on Ice skating rink downtown.

“This is where we hang our hats. We have a responsibility to make this a great place to live and do business.”


At UBS Financial Services, Inc. in Knoxville, corporate donations mirror employee interests. UBS and its forerunners have been a Knoxville staple for 75 years. Branch Manager Chris Cannon leads the UBS business here in Knoxville.

“We take our local connection seriously, and we want to make sure that the impact we have stays right here in Knoxville,” Cannon says. “Equally important is that the organizations we lend our support to must align with the values of our people and our organization.”

How that mission takes shape locally is an organized effort at UBS that emanates from the local leadership level. “Each quarter, there is a designated philanthropy that we give to financially and with our time,” says Cannon. “First quarter, for example, it was Young-Williams Animal Shelter. Second quarter this year was Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and third was Habitat for Humanity. For the last quarter of the year, we encourage employees to support a charity of their choice.”

In addition, UBS has a firm-wide “Season of Service” program that runs from June through the end of August. “This is when staff are encouraged to give their time to something they feel passionate about. Locally, this program is taken very seriously.

This year, we had 95 percent of our employees engaged in a community activity during the Season of Service, which was one of the highest engagement levels in the South Central market. That speaks well for our group and our leaders as we put a lot of effort into encouraging and making it easy for our employees to participate.”

That passion for giving beyond dollars reaps residual benefits for UBS, says Cannon. Finding organizations that literally need boots on the ground helps build a sense of community and teamwork in the workplace as well as helping the charity.

“There are a lot of organizations out there that need manpower. Getting in there with some sweat equity helps build identity and culture for us as a firm, too. It’s a feeling of, ‘I am a part of something that is bigger than me.’ You can see the impact immediately.”

In a business like wealth management, giving beyond dollars makes the company an integral part of the community, says Cannon. “By the very nature of our business here at UBS, we are a very entrepreneurial organization. But when we can all come together as a team to fill a local need, it pulls us all together. Our community work is part of the reason we have such an amazing culture here at UBS.”


With almost 50,000 businesses in Knoxville, it is hard to measure the impact corporate giving has on the non-profit community, but for a snapshot, here’s a list of some of the organizations and non profits that our three featured businesses have given support to:

A Step Ahead Foundation
Alliance for Better Non Profits
Boy Scouts
Boys & Girls Clubs of the Tennessee Valley
Breakthrough 5K for Autism
Cards for Kidz
Community School of the Arts
Clarence Brown Theatre
Dawn of Hope
Dogwood Arts
East Tennessee Foundation
East Tennessee Historical Society
Great Smoky Mountains National Park Service
Great Schools Partnership
Knoxville-Oak Ridge Innovation Valley
Habitat for Humanity
Helen Ross McNabb Center
Holiday on Ice Skating Rink
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library
Junior Achievement
Knox Heritage
Knox County Public Library
Knoxville Oak Ridge Innovation Valley
Knoxville Area Chamber Partnership
Knoxville Museum of Art
Knoxville Symphony Society
Knox Youth Sports
Knoxville Opera
Lakeshore Park
L5 Foundation
The Pat Summitt Foundation
Rebuilding Together Knoxville
Sacred Heart Cathedral
The Change Center
The Salvation Army
Second Harvest Food Bank of East Tennessee
The University of Tennessee – Knoxville
University of Tennessee Medical Center
United Way of Greater Knoxville
Volunteer Ministry Center
Young-Williams Animal Center
Zoo Knoxville
Knox County Public School Foundations
Area Fire and Rescue Department

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