Companies, charities win with telecom plan

Wednesday, December 15, 2004 at 1:00am

When Shirley Zeitlin & Co. Realtors saved money by restructuring its telecom services, the Nashville Symphony became $3,300 richer.

Because it was able to save $843 a month on its phone bills, the realty office agreed to donate a third of its annual savings to the symphony in monthly installments. After next March, the company will pocket the savings.

The arrangement was part of a three-way partnership instigated by Don Raymond, owner of Raymond Telecom in Nashville. Since Raymond approached the first beneficiary of the Extraordinary Giving Initiative in January 2003, the novel fundraising strategy has raised about $40,000 for charities.

The proposition is simple: Raymond Telecom audits a company's local and long-distance calling plans, Internet systems and data communications to uncover unnecessary expenditures and negotiate new billing plans. The resulting savings are shared in three equal amounts to the company, a non-profit agency and to Raymond as his commission.

The telecom consultant said national research shows companies are overspending on telecom services by 10 percent, or $15 billion a year. But Raymond's 11 years of experience has shown the average savings is closer to 20 percent to 50 percent. He figures Nashville businesses may be overspending by about $30 million to $50 million a year.

"Here's a whole source of capital that's new. The key is to how to get the attention of the top officers to deal with something that looks insignificant," he said.

His strategy is to approach a nonprofit agency, which will then approach business owners or executives who are members of their boards of directors.

The idea caught on first with the Red Cross, whose chief executive officer, Tony Higginbotham, is always looking for new fund-raising ideas. (Higginbotham will soon join the Boys and Girls Clubs).

"Don's proposal and his ideas, which is no cost to us, extra money and no work, it seemed like a fantasy, but it's real," he said.

Higginbotham approached Red Cross board members Craig Philip, CEO of Ingram Barge Co. and Mark Ezell, president of Purity Dairies. After having successful audits, the firms are now cutting monthly checks worth "thousands of dollars" to the Red Cross and spreading the word among the rest of the board.

"There are very few (nonprofits) that always have the money to do what they need," Higginbotham said. "They're always looking for ways to raise money and this is one of those unexpected kind of gifts, where it produces extra money for the giver and receiver with the work being done by Don. It's just good in every respect. Everybody wins."

The symphony decided to approach Shirley Zeitlin because she is already a significant financial supporter, said Gloria Elliot, the Symphony's associate vice president of development.

Zeitlin executive vice president Jeanne Fawbush, who oversees the telecom operations, said the company had undergone previous telecom audits over 25 years, but Raymond found more money than she bargained for.

"I originally thought it would be about $285 a month that he'd be able to save. So when he came in with the $843 figure, I was very surprised," Fawbush said.

Being able to increase Zeitlin's contribution to the symphony, Elliot said, is not insignificant.

"It does support our operating fund. That includes not only sustaining the orchestra, but the more operating funds we have, the more outreach we can do to the community. So it does increase the number of education programs we can offer and number of free community concerts," she said.

Raymond says 10 to 12 non-profits have signed up to try out the program, which nets average donations in the $5,000 to $20,000 range.

At least a couple of business representatives on the 31-member board of the YWCA in Nashville have expressed an interest in using the Extraordinary Giving Initiative to support its programs for underprivileged women, said Donna Cheek, YWCA president.

"I haven't seen many opportunities like that before," she said. "What makes it feel good to me is that not only does everybody walk away gaining something, but you've created a relationship that could have long term results."

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