In this era of post-recession cost cutting, many construction companies remain committed to their communities. Instead of pulling back on their charitable funding, firms have amped up community-service programs and refocused their giving strategies to maximize dollars.

The construction industry appears to be in sync with general trends in corporate giving. A study released in December 2011 by Forbes Insights and Hewlett-Packard found that recent involvement in corporate volunteerism has become more important than before the recession, with the majority of companies looking to make financial donations primarily to causes that will allow their employees to volunteer.

The study also notes that motivations for corporate philanthropy are not entirely altruistic. Allowing employees to follow their passions and support causes they care about helps increase employee loyalty and keeps people motivated during times when salary bumps are scarce. The study says volunteering enriches creativity in product and market development, and skill-based philanthropic efforts showcase the company's talents and help attract new business. In construction, such projects might include building low-income housing, rehabbing homeless shelters or constructing playgrounds for area schools.

"While the industry's outlook toward philanthropy has changed in recent years, its commitment to community service has not wavered," says Melinda Patrician, director of the AGC Education & Research Foundation for the Associated General Contractors of America. "Companies are now targeting their funds toward specific needs. They want to see the impact their money will have, and they are especially interested in things that will leave a legacy and grow the industry."

Since 1970, the AGC Education & Research Foundation has awarded more than 3,000 scholarships totaling more than $8 million. After seeing a decline in contributions at the onset of the recession, the foundation is experiencing an upturn. "Our story is fairly typical of most nonprofits around the country. People were cautious and rightfully so, but they're now feeling more confident," Patrician adds.

AGC Charities Inc. runs Operation Opening Doors, which arranges for companies to remodel homes or facilities for injured veterans and other people with disabilities. Last year AGC Charities completed two OOD projects—one in March in conjunction with AGC's 94th Annual Convention in Honolulu and another at an American Legion Post in Washington, D.C.

Contractor Programs

Clark Construction Group, Bethesda, Md., maintains an in-house charitable foundation that donates roughly $4 million annually, and despite the economic downturn, that amount has remained relatively consistent, says Susan Williamson Ross, the company's executive vice president and chief administrative officer. "We made a conscious decision that we were not going to cut back on our community service or charitable giving," Ross says. "There is more need now than before the recession. We take a more targeted approach. Instead of lots of smaller gifts spread across many projects, we give larger gifts to more focused projects, so our giving will have more impact," she adds.

Clark focuses the majority of its giving and community service in the Washington, D.C., area, and specializes in helping wounded, active-duty service members and veterans from nearby military hospitals, including the new Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a joint venture of Clark/Balfour Beatty. One such cause is TeamRiverRunner, a volunteer-based nonprofit that empowers wounded soldiers, many with missing limbs, to meet new physical challenges through white-water kayaking and other paddle sports. Clark also pledged $500,000 to build the nonprofit Boulder Crest Retreat in Virginia, a 37-acre facility with recreational and therapeutic services to help wounded warriors and their families relax and reconnect.

At New York-based Turner Construction, giving has remained relatively consistent, according to Alison Stanton, the company's community affairs director for the Boston area. "We've had to revisit the way we do things to be more efficient and ensure that our efforts have the greatest impact possible, but we have not made any cutbacks," Stanton says.

In recent years, the company increased in-kind donations of employee time and labor, she adds. Turner—a recipient of the AGC in the Community Award for the last two years—operates national mentoring and training programs at the local level by community involvement teams within each of its offices. "Community involvement decisions are made at the local level because our employees work and live in these communities and better understand what projects are most meaningful. Every business unit sets aside a portion of their annual budget to fund community projects," Stanton says.

In 2009, Saunders Construction, Centennial, Colo., expanded its philanthropic efforts beyond traditional donations and launched a new program called Building Confidence in Kids. "It was a time when people weren't giving as much. That's when we saw the need to do more," says Marcy Loughran, marketing and communications director at Saunders.

The company commits 10% of its profits to the program and other community giving, and despite leaner times, exceeded that goal in 2011 and 2012. Building Confidence in Kids partners annually with a local nonprofit. Currently, the program is in its second year of working with Warren Village, which provides affordable housing, onsite family services and early childhood education to single-parent families who were once homeless. In addition to rebuilding the facility's playground, refurbishing rooms and building an on-site day care center, the Saunders team hosts weekly family nights with dinner and activities for kids.