Headquartered in Chicago, Exelon is one of the largest power generators in America, serving the contiguous 48 states, D.C. and Canada. However, the energy giant only delivers electricity to northern Illinois, southeastern Pennsylvania, and central Maryland, and Texas—and this is also where its corporate philanthropy is focused.
Exelon has donated almost $150 million over the past six years to organizations and institutions in these regional communities. In 2013, the Exelon family of companies devoted $32.3 million to philanthropy, and the Exelon Foundation gave out an additional $3.3 million.
Thirty-five million bucks in annual giving is a big number for a company that most Americans have never heard of. And it underscores a point we make often at Inside Philanthropy: Energy companies are loaded, and many are ramping up their philanthropy to unprecedented levels.
What's more, thanks to fracking, these companies have a wider geographic reach than ever before, with natural gas drilling occurring in parts of the country not previously associated with the energy industry.
Exelon is not in the fracking business, but its profits have been rising lately amid a general boom in the energy. And so has its giving.
Right now, Exelon’s No. 1 priority is STEM education, and herein lies another lesson about energy philanthropy: These companies tend to be seriously into science education, with an eye on meeting their future needs for skilled workers.
So if you raise money for STEM, you should be watching energy companies like a hawk. Recently, the focus of Exelon's STEM giving has been on the third through eighth grade demographic.
(Other Exelon giving priorities are stay-in-school initiatives, community and neighborhood development, health, human service, the arts, and the environment.)
It should come as no surprise that Exelon’s hometown enjoys a steady flow of grants throughout its neighborhoods each year. Some Chicago-based nonprofits that have recently received Exelon support include Chicago Urban League, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Openlands, Museum of Science and Industry, Nature Conservancy, the Illinois chapter of the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute, and the United Way of Metropolitan Chicago.
Keep in mind, though, that this funder is keenly interested in outcomes.
“A lot has changed in corporate giving in the past 12 years since I started in this role at Exelon,” Steve Solomon explained to Crain’s Chicago Business. Solomon is the vice president of corporate relations at Exelon Corporation and president of the Exelon Foundation. “Back then, someone would approach us saying, 'This charity does great work! You have to support them!' We'd look at whether the organization matched our giving. We'd ask how they measure outcomes for success. When you'd get a blank stare, it indicated that they weren't measuring their outcomes. That happens a lot less now, and that's a good thing,” he said.
Like many of Chicago’s top philanthropists, Solomon’s resume is packed with local board memberships and advisory committees. Some of these include Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago Children’s Museum, Pope John Paul II Catholic Elementary School, the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy, the Chicago History Museum’s Making History Awards Committee, and the Museum of Science and Industry Energy Planet Advisory Committee.
So what’s Solomon got in mind for corporate giving in the years ahead?
Expect to see a steady flow of grants toward STEM education and stay-in-school initiatives for the foreseeable future. Solomon is passionate about training teachers about STEM topics and getting the communities involved to educate kids in elementary school, middle school, and high school. Exelon is also a big supporter of charter schools, and right now, the corporation supports two Chicago Public School charter schools, the Rowe-Clark Math and Science Academy High School and the Rowe Elementary School.
Like most funders, Exelon has seen dramatic increases in the number of grant requests received since the recession; however, overall corporate giving jumped 17 percent between 2012 and 2013. Although funding for environmental conservation and preservation takes a backset to education programs, Solomon also cares about offsetting some of Exelon’s water usage at generating stations with eco-friendly grants that have a national and global impact.