Once a year, business executives participate in the "Principal for a Day" program in Newark (N.J.) Public Schools. More often than not, after a day shadowing a school principal in New Jersey's largest and oldest school district, they answer the school's obvious need for help.
In one case, the CEO of an upholstery company saw the condition of auditorium chairs and redid them all, says Willie Freeman, the district's director of security services. Panasonic installed more than $100,000 worth of surveillance cameras in a high school. A sign on the security office door states that the company donated the cameras. "You can't buy the publicity they got for $100,000," Freeman says.
Most corporations have a community outreach component. "They want to help, and it's just a matter of reaching out to let them know you have specific needs," he adds.
Burlington Coat Factory donated coats for a coat drive, and Catherine's Closet, a nonprofit founded by a financial services executive Sandra Kessler, collects donations to provide new and used gowns for girls to wear to the prom.
One of the most significant contributors to Newark's schools is Prudential, the financial services powerhouse based in the city. The company foundation, which supports many charter schools nationwide, funds a preschool and provided $3.6 million in 2005 to buy land for a charter middle school. The company also funds a program that pays tuition for a teaching license in math or science to people who commit to teaching three years in Newark Public Schools.
"There are many untapped resources out there, but the thing you always have to be concerned with is what's in it for them," Freeman says. "So we're not going to solicit them. It's more them coming to us and saying you guys are doing a great job. What can we do to help you along? If you ask for stuff, they expect something in return."