In spite of the investor-owned utility's substantial corporate philanthropy program, Northern States Power (NSP) customer research showed that more than one-third of the company's customers said the company had "no programs at all" that served the community, and only 14 percent said the company had such programs. As NSP vice president in charge of this area, Hazel O'Leary (currently U.S. Secretary of Energy) assigned Padilla Speer Beardsley (PSB) to make recommendations for refocusing the program to be more effective and strategic for the company.
PSB conducted in-depth interviews with a cross section of Minnesota opinion leaders in public affairs, government relations and corporate philanthropy to identify the top Twin Cities-based companies recognized for this philanthropy. We also asked these leaders to describe the attributes of these programs that made them excellent from the point of view of the community, and then from the point of view of the company. Five companies were consistently mentioned and benchmarking interviews were conducted with the directors of those programs. For comparison, the same questions were asked of NSP's 10-person internal community relations staff.
Comprehensive recommendations were developed, working with a multi-disciplinary internal team of NSP managers. PSB made recommendations to refocus the program's giving strategies in areas more directly relevant to the company's government and community agenda. We recommended a transition plan from current giving strategies to new ones, and called for increased communications support for their efforts. Customer awareness of NSP community programs is up significantly and the company is particularly visible in environmental programs which PSB identified as a strategic focus area. Issues research shows awareness of community programs is an influential factor in opinion formation across a wide range of issues, including rates, environmental matters and future energy resource planning.