Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Charity as PR for Lilly?

If you read this, there's no doubt you'll say, "It's official! iPopa is a cynic!"

The Indianapolis Star reports today: "Eli Lilly Chief's $1M Gift Boosts United Way"

Eli Lilly CEO, John Lechleiter, has committed to giving $250,000 per year for the next four years to United Way. Lechleiter also challenged other executives to "step up." Normally, I'd say, "Wow! What a great guy!"

Here's my problem. United Way donations were down substantially last year (though not as much as now), a fact Mr. Lechleiter would have certainly known as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana.

Is there any reason why the head of a major pharmaceutical company would want to have the PR associated with making this type of donation right now, at this very minute? Has anybody heard of anything going nationally that might concern Lilly?

As an aside, it's shrewd PR getting credit for a $1M gift now even though you aren't paying it all until four years. See, a guy could say, "I'm giving $250,000 this year" and know in his heart of hearts that he is going to do the same for the next three years. But that doesn't get you the headline of a million, does it?

The Star reports that Gino Santini, United Way's campaign chair and a senior vice president at Lilly, said in a statement. "We hope (the Lechleither's) example will inspire others to join them."

Absolutely! Come on, John! Inspire others! Just give United Way the full mill this year and forget the next three. They'll invest it wisely with you on the Board, I'm sure!

I had similiar cynical thoughts when Lilly hired an extremely high-profile, Democratic former mayor, too. Mostly this cynicism came from my belief (which might be inaccurate) that Mayor Peterson had never worked in pharmaceuticals. But also, it came from knowing the Mayor was tight enough with Senator Bayh (a/k/a "the critical healthcare swing vote") to serve as the then-Governor's chief-of-staff. Who wouldn't want that skill set (and political affiliation) running your government affairs group during a Democratic presidential administration that committed to sweeping healthcare reform?



stAllio! said...

the nature of non-profit boards is that board members are often expected to not only contribute themselves but also to help bring in other high-value donors. fundraising is hard work, as is establishing a connection to wealthy donors. this is precisely why organizations like the united way court corporate executives to be on the board in the first place: because they can afford to donate a million bucks, and can personally approach their wealthy friends to do the same.

as such, i have no doubt that lechleiter has always intended to donate this money. perhaps he did pick the announcement date for maximum impact, but to suggest that political expediency is the only reason for the donation shows an ignorance of how non-profit fundraising works.

in other words, if lechleiter weren't going to publicly donate a million dollars and ask others to do likewise, he probably wouldn't be on the board in the first place. his primary value to the united way is the money he can bring in. he's not there for his management skills—the united way has a professional staff for that.

Anonymous said...

Cynical doesn't quite cover it. This is silly.

Chris Worden said...

stAllio!, thanks for posting. It's been a while!

Let's start with what we agree on:

(1) Boards recruit people who can bring in money from their own wallets or from those of others;

(2) Mr. Lechleiter was going to give to United Way as a board member regardless of what else was going on in the world.

Here's what we don't agree on:

(1) whether I said Mr. Lechleiter's ONLY motivation was political. I don't think I said that; you do.

Maybe your point is that I didn't do enough research to imply something untoward. That's a fair point...burden of proof and all.

But humor me for a second and entertain my notion that part of his motivation in THE AMOUNT given and the MANNER of giving could have been motivated, IN PART, by political considerations.

How would you disprove my cynicism? Well, you might say, "Dude, Lechleiter gave United Way $250,000 LAST YEAR before he even knew Obama was going to be president." And I'd say, "Wow. What a great guy! But if he only gave, say, $50,000 last year, that's a sizeable jump, isn't it? What was that about?"

Then I'd ask, "stAllio!, do you don't think corporate execs ever do things charitably for PR purposes? I mean, they could give the gifts anonymously, right?"

And you'd say, "Of course, for some PR is part of the goal, which is why they always identify themselves with their company."

And then I'd say, "So, if they're buying what end? I mean, I might shop at Kroger instead of Walmart if I know Kroger donates to the United Way, but does anybody use Cialis instead of Viagra because Lilly is a good corporate citizen?"

And you'd say, "Of course not."

And then I'd say, "So then what is Lilly (and all of the execs he can convince to give) buying with their good PR? It has to be something else, right?"

And you'd say, "Yes, I the PR must be about something else...but, man, I just don't know what else it could be. Gasp! Are you suggesting political influence?!?!?! Well, if so, you're ignorant about fundraising, dude. Lechleiter has to go public with his donation."

And I'd say, "Why? Can't he just give the money anonymously, then call his exec buddies, tell them what he did, and ask them to match the contribution?"

You'd say, "No. It's the public splash that gets the donations. It's not him ASKING!"

Then I'd say, "OH, so he is operating off the premise that there is a "keeping up with the Lechleiter's" competition that other CEOs and executives engage in, and unless he publicly ponies up money, none of them will give, notwithstanding the massive tax writeoff?

You say, "Exactly!"

And I say, "Awesome, stAllio! I am no longer cynical....about Lechleiter."

stAllio! said...

um... what?

of course it's him asking that gets the donations. if the united way could just put out a press release and magically CEOs would start donating, then they wouldn't need lechleiter in the first place.

i guess i don't understand what you're trying to insinuate. something mysterious and untoward, i guess:

1: donate to united way
2: ?????
3: political influence!

Unknown said...


Precisely! I love it when you think you're disproving my point when you're actually making it better than I ever could.

You DON'T need a press release to raise the money, do you? In fact, he could have made the gift public and told United Way and/or Lilly NOT to do a press release as a condition (because I PROMISE you somebody at Lilly, maybe Lechleiter himself, looked at that press release. Look at the bottom of it, and you'll see a full paragraph about Lilly.

Why include the Lilly paragraph? Lilly didn't make a corporate donation. This was individual, wasn't it?!?

OR Lechleiter could have made the gift anonymously and urged all of his friends to do the same at his "private" Columbia Club reception.

So, um, why didn't he? After all, you already conceded that the public splash doesn't help raise any more money, and that HE gets the dollars through personal contact.

What is left then as an explanation for his desire for the media attention? (a) ego (PR value for himself); (b) PR value for Lilly.

Problem is that I hear he's kind of humble. Also, he could say, "You know what? This isn't about Lilly, so don't identify me by my job in any news release. And, what the hell!?!? Delete that paragraph at the bottom of the release. Don't even identify my company!" He didn't do that either.

The Star story also talks about donations from four other people that totalled $110,000. Where do those people work? We don't know, do we? You know why? Because those people didn't write press releases talking about where they worked!

So, to recap, stAllio!:

(1) He could have given and raised money anonymously, but he didn't;

(2) As United Way's chair, he could have prohibited it from issuing a press release with repeated references to Lilly, but he didn't;

(3) As the press release stated, he made this commitment BEFORE the annual campaign even started;

(4) He made this commitment right when Congress was approaching a vote on a massive healthcare overhaul;

(5) He (and his wife) gave more money this year than before even though the press release states she's been involved with United Way at least dating back to 2003;

(6) Lechleiter is keenly aware of the public perception of big pharma. In September of 2008, he gave a speech to the Economic Club of Indiana during which he stated that one of the 800-pound gorillas in the room is “The Image of the Pharmaceutical Industry” … and he is one ugly dude! He can barely win a beauty contest against tobacco or Big Oil … and that’s saying something!"

If that doesn't make you at least pause for a second, I have to ask....are you doing any work for Lechleiter, Lilly, or United Way right now?

stAllio! said...

sorry, but i'm still not following you. why exactly should he have donated anonymously? who would that benefit, and how?

he pledged a million dollars. it's good PR for him, for lilly, and for the united way, so they put out a press release. end of story.

the idea that this is some back-alley form of lobbying congress is plainly ridiculous. don't you think a massive corporation like lilly has better, more effective ways to lobby than by donating to united way of central indiana? it's not even a national campaign! his donation won't even be reported outside of central indiana!