Fueled by philanthropy: Reno businesses stress importance of giving back | nnbw.com

Fueled by philanthropy: Reno businesses stress importance of giving back

Amelia Lane, right, assistant director of development at the UNR School of Medicine, speaks during the fourth annual Philanthropy Leaders Summit on Sept. 13 at the Nevada Museum of Art. Garrett Kalt, founder of LEAD On, looks on.
Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel

RENO, Nev. — Galen Gifford believes in superpowers.

The co-founder and CEO of bigtruck, a Truckee-based designer and manufacturer of trucker hats, felt it most when he and fellow team members were at Renown Children’s Hospital, making hats with the kids in their hospital rooms.

Wheeling a pop-up hat factory into the hospital, bigtruck gave children the chance to choose their own hat colors, designs, decals, everything, and watch their hats get made right in front of them. Meanwhile, Gifford and Co. got to watch the kids’ faces light up and smiles shine under their new trucker hats.

“Literally, when I think about making hats at the children’s hospital, I have a physical experience,” said Gifford, beaming. “Because it reminds me that this is what I need to do.

“If we can be doing more good to help our community,” he continued, “that passion is going to turn into a purpose. And we’re going to then be a group of purposeful people on a mission. The purpose is a superpower, and if you get multiple people in that place, it’s pretty exciting the impact you can make.”

Indeed, the bigtruck CEO is a big proponent of corporate philanthropy. So much so that bigtruck a year ago became a B Corporation. This, according to B Lab, means bigtruck is a business that “meets the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.”

“This is our way of holding ourselves more accountable and being legally held more accountable to make decisions in our business not just based on the shareholders,” Gifford explained. “But also the employees, the team members, the community, the environment, everything the business touches.”


Gifford thinks every business, big and small, can benefit from focusing less on the bottom line and more on the time and money they can donate to good causes. Gifford expressed as much Sept. 13 as a panelist at the fourth annual Philanthropy Leaders Summit at the Nevada Museum of Art.    

“I think philanthropy is key because it’s realizing there’s more in this world than just ourselves,” Gifford told the NNBV.

For some entrepreneurs, carving out time for charitable causes amid running a business may be the only thing standing in their way. For other business owners, they may not know when or where to start.

To this, Gifford succinctly advises: “Get out there. Start donating time. Find causes that really make your heart beat faster.”

Amelia Lane, assistant director of development at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, agreed. She said entrepreneurs should “find something they’re passionate about and find an organization with that mission.”

For the UNR School of Medicine, its mission is “A Healthy Nevada.”

This vision, Lane said, includes getting access to healthcare in the rural communities, bringing quality healthcare to fast-growing Washoe County, and building its residency program to make sure graduates have opportunities to stay in their field in the Silver State. In terms of the latter, Lane said about 40 percent of doctors currently practicing in Nevada are graduates of the school of medicine.

“As our community gets larger, we’re hoping that number will increase,” Lane said. “As all these new companies are coming in, there’s all this opportunity for change and growth. The school is a part of all that, and we’re doing our best to make sure that we are.”


One of the companies that came in and spurred much of Northern Nevada’s growth over the past five years is Tesla. The electric carmaker, whose 1.9 million-square-foot Tesla Gigafactory is located east of Reno-Sparks in Storey County, is no stranger to philanthropic efforts, either.

Chris Reilly, Tesla’s workforce development and education program director, speaks during the fourth annual Philanthropy Leaders Summit on Sept. 13.
Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel

In fact, Tesla recently announced it is donating $1 million to the state of Nevada to support science education initiatives in the coming years, according to previous reports. The commitment will support the direct training of more than 3,900 teachers by Nevada’s Regional Professional Development Program.

In addition, this summer Tesla partnered with UNLV, UNR and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) to launch the Robotics Academy of Nevada, a professional development program funded by Tesla’s K-12 Education Investment Fund. The academy trained roughly 200 middle and high school teachers to coach robotics programs at their schools, with mentor support throughout the year.

“For us, this is all about impact investing in education,” Chris Reilly, Tesla’s workforce development and education program director, told the NNBV. “And taking the exact same principles that drive Tesla’s mission to help accelerate that transition to sustainable energy and apply it to developing programs in our schools that can help empower students to make a difference in our communities.”

Sure, mega-companies like Tesla have the mega-funds to make a far-reaching difference in communities across the state. Reilly, however, said the size of a company doesn’t dictate the size of the impact it can make.

“Look at those opportunities from a community standpoint to plug into because they’re out there,” Reilly said he would tell any entrepreneur. “That is something that a one-person business can do and have a direct impact in the same exact way that 6,000 team members at Tesla here in Northern Nevada can do as well.”


According to Nevada-based consulting firm Applied Analysis, community wellness and sustainability ranked as the most important motivating factor for corporate philanthropy in Nevada in 2018. Not long ago, increasing customer loyalty (the least important factor) ranked highest.

In terms of volunteering, according to Applied Analysis, companies donated more than 90,000 volunteer hours in Nevada communities.

Amelia Gulling, Science Alive STEM education director at DRI, said the trend is exciting, but also necessary for the Silver State to continue to thrive.  

“We’re growing as a state, not just up north but down south, too,” Gulling said. “And so there’s growing needs of our community. So having everyone come together so that we can address those needs as fast as we grow is really important.”


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