Tom Caramanico has been involved with corporate social responsibility (CSR) for so long, it wasn’t even called that when he got started. He’s been the President of McCormick Taylor, Inc., an engineering company, since 1988 and built it from around 20 employees to its current size of nearly 500 employees in 19 offices across nine states. Due to Caramanico’s success in business, he became a fixture on nonprofit boards and his family has been influential in causes ranging from historical preservation to international education. But when he got started, all he wanted to do was help.
“We didn’t call it CSR back then,” Caramanico said in a recent phone call. “We didn’t really call it anything. I called it community involvement. I wanted to be around people who were successful and running successful companies, because by doing that I’m enhancing the image of my own company. It was really that simple in the beginning – I didn’t necessarily choose the causes I supported, those causes chose me. Someone asked me to help or asked for advice, and that’s how you get involved.”
Once you did start to get more active in the CSR community, what was your experience like?
“In the early years, I went to a four-hour accounting seminar, and I learned that nonprofits are often more difficult to manage than for-profits. With a for-profit company, you provide a service and someone gives you money. It’s a 1-to-1 relationship. In nonprofits though, you get the money from someone but then provide the service to someone else. It’s not a direct transaction, and it’s a much more difficult thing to operate.”
You’re a leader and have built a successful business – was it hard to go into that environment and not just try to take things over? How can a President or CEO get involved?
“The biggest thing for me right away was that I tried to be a friend to the nonprofit staff. I didn’t presume to know better or show up with any superior knowledge. Instead, I just pitched in as a helper. To some extent, people need support and encouragement from someone who has done it before. It was always my goal in the beginning to make them feel better about themselves and empower them.
With all the nonprofits I’m involved in, I’ve helped them think about – what is our business? What do we do? What service do we provide? There are nonprofits around that don’t really understand the business they are in. These nonprofits might be great at raising all sorts of money for their cause, but small expenses for things like printing costs can overwhelm them. That’s why Ed [Satell] was so visionary when it came to this concept of providing multi-year funding for the nonprofit.”
Were multi-year commitments rare for nonprofits? How was Ed’s approach different?
David Cohen of Comcast gave a great anecdote at the recent Satell Institute CEO Conference on Oct 23. He said, ‘Imagine all the money you have as a company right now, and then at the end of the year it all disappears and you have to start from scratch. That’s what it’s like to run a nonprofit.’
I first met Ed years ago during an event for the National Liberty Museum. He told me about this idea of asking for four-year commitments and I remember thinking it was so radical, because almost everyone just committed year-by-year. Well, he convinced me and now he’s convinced a heck of a lot of other people! Ed is a relentless networker and made all this happen through his passion and commitment. These multi-year commitments have become crucial for the survival of a nonprofit – they are busy, understaffed, and they live or die on these injections of capital. ”
What’s the value of being a part of the Satell Institute? How do you pitch the concept to your own network?
“When it comes to the Satell Institute I just tell them, listen – you’d better get involved with this thing for two reasons:
1. If you want to make a difference and an impact in your community, these members are already doing it and it’s a great place to hear about how they’ve done it. Just being in the same room with those people is inspiring. It’s a place where people understand that to get anything done in the community, you need the money and insight from the private sector.
2. I have seen tremendous value in adding my name to a list of people and companies who are doing good things. It enhances anyone’s image to be associated with these companies, and there is certainly a halo effect from being a part of the Satell Institute.
The Winter-Spring 2018-2019 Scholars Intern Program
The inaugural Satell Scholars Summer Intern Program was an outstanding success, and the Institute is now launching its Winter-Spring Cohort selection. Designed for full-and part-time graduate students, the 2018-2019 Satell Scholar Program will also provide inspiring hands-on nonprofit experiences for the selected cohort. For more information visit https://www.satellinstitute.org/about/intern-program/