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Featured Non-Profit Interview: Richard Brown

Interview by George Williams, Communications Specialist - Planned Legacy Inc.

Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy, Toys "R" UsRichard Brown
Executive Director, Toys "R" Us Children's Fund Inc.

 

About Richard Brown

Richard A. Brown is the Vice President of Corporate Philanthropy at Toys "R" Us and Executive Director of the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund. He is responsible for the full-range of the company's corporate community involvement, which includes all corporate and Fund grantmaking. Additionally, Mr. Brown oversees the Fund's various fundraising activities including the annual gala, in-store fundraising, cause-related fundraising, and employee giving.

Before coming to Toys "R" Us, Mr. Brown was the Executive Director of the Texaco Foundation, the Director of Community Relations (Worldwide) and a Director on the Texaco Global Fund's Board. He coordinated Texaco's national and international grantmaking initiatives. Mr. Brown was responsible for the Leadership Development corporate focus area that included the Texaco Emerging Leaders Program and the Texaco Management Institute (TMI) - a leadership and management training workshop for nonprofit executives.

Mr. Brown was Manager, Corporate Contributions at Philip Morris Companies Inc. where he managed the corporate giving program and oversaw the 60 million dollar Board Allocated Contributions' budget.

Over the years, Mr. Brown has been an active volunteer and board member of many NGOs. He currently serves as a director on the New York Regional Association of Grantmakers' Board of Directors; The STRIVE Board of Directors; Is a Co-chairman of the Corporate Community Job Project in Westchester; and the President of the Westchester Clubmen. Mr. Brown is also a trustee of the Lincoln Fund — a Foundation that supports a wide range of community-based programs in New York City. Mr. Brown is a graduate of Syracuse University and a former Peace Corp Volunteer. He resides in White Plains, NY with his wife Donna.

Learn more about Toys "R" Us...


Planned Legacy: Can you tell us a little about your background and your work with The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund?

Richard Brown: I've been involved with corporate grantmaking since 1988 and have worked at two other companies in their philanthropic units. At Toys "R" Us, I head both the corporate giving program and The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund's grantmaking program. Additionally, I am responsible for identifying non-profit partners in the Fund's two signature programs and for all fundraising activities.

Planned Legacy: Why was The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund initially established? Can you give us a brief overview of your major successes with the Fund?

Richard Brown: The Children's Fund was established to provide child-Community Commitmentrelated charities with needed funds to benefit the health and welfare of children, and demonstrate Toys "R" Us Inc.'s commitment to the communities where the company's businesses operate. The Fund has provided over $45 million since 1992 to numerous charities across the United States.

In 2001, the Children's Fund responded quickly to the tragic events of September 11th by establishing the 9/11 Emergency Relief Fund. The "9/11"Fund raised over $2.6 million, the majority coming from Toys "R" Us, Inc. and through matching funds, which have been distributed to over 30 organizations that are supporting children and families affected by the tragic events of that day.

Planned Legacy: How does the Toys "R" Us corporate culture extend to your philosophy on corporate and/or social responsibility? What effect has the establishment of the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund had on the corporation and its employees?

Richard Brown: The Fund is in many ways an extension of the company's belief that children are at the center of our universe. Toys "R" Us is in the business of bringing joy to children and their families. The Fund's purpose is to support deserving children and their families in need in an effort to give back to the communities we serve through our divisions. The Fund is a source of pride for the corporation and for many of our employees who are pleased that their communities are supported through our giving.

The company's emphasis on children is mirrored by the Fund and Toys "R" Us associates are delighted that the Fund takes an active role in the community by supporting worthy charities that enrich the lives of children.

Planned Legacy: How much money was awarded last year by the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund? Where does the Fund concentrate the majority of its grants? Are there any key programs you are currently supporting? Can you tell us about them?

Richard Brown: The Fund awarded over $9 million in 2001 to an array of organizations that are focused on supporting children. In 2001, the majority of the funds were concentrated in the medical field. Going forward, we anticipate a significant shift in our giving that will target a larger portion of the donations to the Children's Fund's two signature programs: Kids' Playroom Program and Reading Ready: Preparing Children to be Lifelong Readers. These two initiatives focus resources in two very specific arenas.

The first signature program is the Kids' Playroom Program, which builds on a corporate initiative that has created 45 playrooms in hospitals across the country. We intend to increase the number of playrooms in medical settings while creating rooms that are more engaging to the young children for whom they're designed.

Reading ReadyThe second signature program is the newly established Reading Ready program that will support programs that are bringing pre-literacy skills to at-risk children newborn to age five. This program's goal is to prepare children so they are reading ready by the time they reach kindergarten. The Reading Ready program has two components: Parents are Teachers and the Pre-Kindergarten Initiative.

Planned Legacy: Are community programs initiated and maintained at the neighborhood, city, regional or national level? Does The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund oversee and approve all programming?

Richard Brown: Programs can be initiated at any level. The Fund has traditionally received requests from the managers in the regional offices and at the store levels. We hope to continue this tradition by asking managers to encourage local hospitals and pre-schools to apply for support from the Fund. Program design and grant approval process takes place at the corporate headquarters. The board of The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund is comprised of executives who work at Toys "R" Us Inc., and this body governs how the funds are spent.

Planned Legacy: Is money that is donated locally to the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund, distributed back to the communities in which it was donated, or is it disbursed from a central location based on other criteria?

Richard Brown: Money raised locally is disbursed from a central location based on our giving criteria. The majority of the money that is raised for the Fund is raised at an annual fundraising gala that takes place in New York on an annual basis. Only recently have we engaged the stores to help raise money for The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund and at this time it remains a small portion of the Fund's overall budget.

Planned Legacy: Is the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund supported exclusively by the corporation, or are there public fundraising events throughout the year?

Richard Brown: The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund raises money from several sources. The corporation provides funds, our vendors and suppliers provide support at our annual gala and our guests contribute money during our in-store fundraising efforts. We are also planning to establish a workplace giving campaign in the next year that will make it easier for our employees to contribute.

Planned Legacy: How do you create awareness about the good work that The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund does? Do you market your philanthropic initiatives through your network of stores?

Richard Brown: We've just begun to develop avenues for promoting the good work of the Fund. In the past, the Fund has not received the level of recognition it deserves for the important support it provides the community. In fact, one of the reasons for narrowing our giving focus was to increase the impact of the Fund in a more narrowly defined area. This approach, we believe, will help the Fund become a more significant player in the areas it has chosen to focus its support.

Planned Legacy: How does the Toys "R" Us, Inc. corporation involve employees in the "Toys "R" Us Children's Fund?

Richard Brown: Now that we have developed a more focused giving program, the opportunity for more employee involvement is greater. The two signature programs that we have identified are perfect for creating volunteer opportunities. We plan to work very closely with our grantees to connect with our headquarters, division, and store associates to establish relationships and create opportunities that are mutually beneficial.

Planned Legacy: Do you recognize or reward your internal and external contributors to The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund?

Richard Brown: Most of our external contributors are participants at the Fund's annual gala and are recognized in the Dinner Program. As we move forward with our workplace giving campaign, I'm confident we will recognize those employees who contribute to the Fund as well. 

Planned Legacy: Does Toys "R" Us use the Internet and the power of digital networking to create new relationships and strengthen existing relationships, to create awareness?

Richard Brown: At this time we are not using the Internet beyond the information that we put on the company's website to promote the Fund's giving programs. We do, intend to establish a more engaging web presence for the Fund that will include an e-philanthropy component which will allow non-profit organizations to submit proposals via the web. This will allow us to increase our database while expediting the proposal reviewing process.

Planned Legacy: Does The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund produce a regular electronic newsletter? If so, what is involved in the creation and distribution of the newsletter? How do you promote your newsletter? How do you gather e-mail addresses and new subscribers?

Richard Brown: At this time we do not have an electronic newsletter for The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund. That's certainly something we'll consider in the future.

Planned Legacy: Does The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund form strategic partnerships with any non-profit organizations?

Richard Brown: Yes we believe that developing these types of relationships with non-profit organizations is an excellent way to increase our impact in the community. At this time, the Fund is working with Reading is Fundamental (RIF) on an in-store book fundraising program that was created to purchase books for pre-school classrooms in at-risk communities. This partnership is a perfect fit for the Fund's Readying Ready: Preparing Children to be Lifelong Readers signature program and it provides the Fund's staff with an opportunity to work with a nationally known leader in the literacy field. The Fund is also in the process of developing similar partnerships under its Kids' Playroom program.

Planned Legacy: Have you ever run a cause-related marketing program where The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund matches dollar-for-dollar the contributions that are raised by a public campaign?

Richard Brown: Yes the RIF program mentioned above was set up that way. Additionally, when the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund established the "9/11 Emergency Relief Fund," the Fund matched the contributions made by customers, dollar for dollar. This was a wonderful way for the Fund to engage Toys "R" Us customers from around the country and provide those consumers with an avenue to connect to the victims of the tragic events in New York City, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC.

Planned Legacy: How does The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund separate itself from the Toys "R" Us retail operation? Are there guidelines that exist in this regard that you have to adhere to this?

Richard Brown: The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund, Inc. is a completely separate public foundation that is autonomous from the company and its retail operations. The Fund's board is made up of Toys "R" Us, Inc. associates but is in no way connected to the corporate board. The Fund has separate guidelines and is mandated to support charities that focus on children. Our recent shift in focus to the Kids' Playroom and the Reading Ready signature programs is a continuation of the mandate.

Planned Legacy: How has the retail operation benefited directly or indirectly from the Toys "R" Us Children's Fund? How do you measure these benefits?

Richard Brown: There are no tangible benefits that the retail operation has gained from the Children's Fund beyond the positive publicity the company may receive because of the Fund's good works. We make a point of keeping these two entities separate.

Planned Legacy: How do you go about getting buy-in for your programs from the executive officers of the Toys "R" Us corporation? What are the best methods of communicating the value and benefits of a corporate foundation to the executive officers?

Richard Brown: The board of the Children's Fund is made up primarily of "R" Us executives who care deeply about the Fund and the programs it supports. In fact, the Fund is well received by senior management because of the important causes the Fund supports. Regularly scheduled board meetings and the grant approval process keep these executives informed and engaged.

Planned Legacy: How does the culture of a corporate foundation differ from that of a hospital or university foundation?

Richard Brown: The major difference between The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund and other operating foundations is the fact that it's branded Toys "R" Us. This very immediate association with the company identifies the Fund with a very well known brand that produces positive feelings whenever the name is mentioned.

Unlike hospital and university foundations that have the sole purpose of supporting a specific institution, The Toys "R" Us Children's Fund has the mandate to support children's charities that meet the its guidelines. Therefore, the Fund, like the company, is very interested in children and the importance of joy and happiness in a child's life. The culture is one of enriching and nurturing the lives of children — the center of the company's and the Fund's universe.

Planned Legacy: What are the major reasons why a corporation should consider starting its own foundation or fund to benefit the communities it does business in?

Richard Brown: I can only speak to why we felt it was important. Children are the heart and soul of our businesses, and as such, it's very natural that we would want to play a role in charitable efforts that benefit the lives of children. Corporations are made up of people — and at Toys "R" Us and at all our divisions, we feel a sense of responsibility to give back to the communities where we do business.

Many of us are parents and all of us have children in our lives in one way or another. It's a wonderful thing to be able to make a difference in the life of a child, and quite simply, we think it's the right thing to do.


Toys 'R' UsAbout Toys "R" Us

Toys "R" Us, Inc. is an $11 billion dollar business with approximately 1,600 stores worldwide. Since becoming a public company in 1978, Toys "R" Us, Inc. has built its reputation as an authority on toys and children's products. Toys "R" Us is a market share leader in the largest markets in which it operates, including the United States and Japan. In the U.S., their largest market, they are the only true nationwide freestanding destination toy store. Since its inception, Toys"R"Us, Inc., has grown to include the following divisions: 

• Toys "R" Us, U.S. 
• Toys "R" Us, International 
• Kids "R" Us 
• Babies "R" Us 
• Imaginarium

The "R" Us family offers guests a broad assortment of toys, games, sporting goods, electronics, software, baby and kids' apparel and juvenile furniture.

For more information please contact: 

Toys "R" Us, Inc. Headquarters
461 From Road
Paramus, NJ 07652 
(201) 262-7800
http://www2.toysrus.com/about

The Toys"R"Us Children's Fund, Inc.
461 From Road
Paramus, NJ 07652
http://www2.toysrus.com/about/corpPhilanthropy.cfm


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