Beneficial Corp. benefits from ties to the Hodson Trust, which it spawned

JOINING PROFITS TO CORPORATE CARING

December 09, 1991|By LESTER A. PICKER

How would you like your company to get big bang -- I mean really big bang -- for giving away bucks that aren't really its bucks?

Confusing as that sounds, it gets worse before it gets better. The company I am referring to is a major Delaware-chartered financial institution. Its corporate offices are in New Jersey. And, by all rights, it is really a Maryland company, at least historically. It is the company that gives away the money it doesn't really have.

Last week, the Hodson Trust gave away $2.6 million to four Maryland institutions of higher education. The money was the latest gift in a series that stretches back more than 70 years. In that period, the trust has given away more than $46 million to four private schools -- the Johns Hopkins University, Washington College, Hood College and St. John's College. No other schools are fortunate enough to share the bounty because of the terms imposed by the trust's founder, Colonel Clarence Hodson, a member of the Maryland militia in 1896.

Hodson also founded what is now know as the Beneficial Corp., which has its corporate offices in Peapack, N.J. Such was not always the case, though. In its humble beginnings, Beneficial was a Maryland company. The colonel grew up in Crisfield and later moved to Baltimore. When he died, he left Beneficial stock in the trust that bears his name and left stipulations on how the funds were to be used.

The Hodson Trust story would be just another sidelight to history except that it is an illuminating study in corporate responsibility and culture. The trust is an independent entity, but its trustees include the chairman and chief executive officer of Beneficial, five former Beneficial executives and an attorney.

Though the Hodson Trust is not a charitable arm of the Beneficial Corp., the trust retains strong ties to the corporation that spawned it. And at the annual luncheon at which it announces its awards, every recipient thanked "the Beneficial Hodson Trust" for its gift.

One might take a cynical view of this, but the Hodson Trust has done some wonderful things for these Maryland institutions and, through them, the world at large. The funds have supported construction, research and scholarships.

And, aside from its links to the Hodson Trust, Beneficial has a solid corporate giving program that can stand on its own against most other programs in the nation.

Typical of corporate philanthropy, Beneficial's involvement in charitable giving has fostered a corporate culture of caring and involvement in community affairs while still churning out excellent profits (earnings are up 13 percent over last year's). Beneficial has even brought some corporate savvy to the giving itself.

As an example, $100,000 of the money that Hopkins will receive will go toward the new Beneficial Hodson Applied Research Institute. Here is a model in partnership development, which CEO Finn Caspersen brokered.

He brought together the Metheny School in Peapack, a well-known institution caring for severely disabled students, with faculty members at Hopkins.

Together, they will determine the best equipment choices for people with handicaps.

"As a company, we've supported Metheny School, so it was a natural thing to bring these two fine institutions together," the affable Caspersen told me at the luncheon. "There are some fascinating things the two will be able to do together."

One of those fascinating things was mentioned to me in passing by Metheny School President Robert Schonhorn -- the possibility of tapping into brain wave patterns to enable a quadriplegic to manipulate a wheelchair and other tools. "That's really Buck Rogers stuff," Schonhorn said, "but it's stuff Hopkins is already working on."

The pairing of Hopkins and Metheny is a natural for other reasons. For more than 10 years, the Hodson Trust has supported the Center for Technology and Human Disabilities, a joint venture between Hopkins' College of Education and the Maryland State Department of Education.

Now, that cutting-edge research will find applications in the human faces at the Metheny School, thanks to the ability of Beneficial's people to see an opportunity and bridge the gap between corporate and private philanthropy. Here's a good example of applying an everyday business practice, joint venturing, to the non-profit arena.

Beneficial is in a particularly strong position because of its intense interest and involvement in education.

Jane Kenney, head of corporate giving at Beneficial, points to its history of focused giving in education, health and the arts. That commitment couples money with the personal involvement of employees, from Caspersen, who was on the New Jersey State Board of Higher Education and is a trustee of educational institutions, to the field staff.

Hopkins President William C. Richardson summed up the feelings of Hodson award recipients: "We've received more than $13 million from the Hodson Trust over the years. The trustees have really made an investment in the next generation."

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