At Comcast, giving back to the communities we serve began with our founding 50 years ago.  With such a long history of helping others, I thought it would be good to sit down with Charisse R. Lillie, Vice President of Community Investment and President of the Comcast Foundation, to share some perspectives on how we give and what is in store for our philanthropic efforts in 2013.

How does Comcast decide which programs and partnerships to support?

We invest in programs and nonprofits that address our priorities: digital literacy, leadership development and service. Targeting those three areas allows us to utilize our company resources and maximize our impact in the communities we serve. One example of the synergy between our giving and business expertise is our investment in digital literacy. Over the last 10 years, we have invested heavily in developing our broadband network, which not only allows us to be the nation’s leading broadband provider, but also uniquely positions us to help bridge the digital divide by providing lower income families with Internet access. Our expertise in providing broadband residential service enabled us to launch Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most ambitious broadband adoption program. As a result, since 2011 we have connected more than 100,000 low-income families ― that’s 400,000 Americans, or about the size of the entire population of Miami ― to the Internet. 

Another crossover between our community investment and business expertise is our focus on diversity and inclusion. Understanding the full diversity of populations we serve is good for business and informs many of our funding decisions. 

Most large companies give back to the community. What makes Comcast’s support different?

Comcast takes a holistic approach to philanthropy, from our employees who volunteer with nonprofit organizations in their communities, to our many executives who serve on local, regional and national boards of some of the organizations we support. 

Probably our most unique way of giving back is by providing more than 130,000 hours of free airtime for public service announcements each year. Thirty seconds of airtime can have an incredible impact, but for many organizations, those seconds are just too expensive. To help, Comcast donates public service announcement airtime to organizations we partner with, and others that share important messages we support. Last year, we ran more than $211 million worth of public service announcements that taught how to stand up to cyber-bullying, celebrated our cultural differences and made an impact, we hope, in the lives of millions of viewers. 

City Year is an excellent example of the impact our gift of airtime can have. In 2011, Comcast donated millions of dollars in public service announcements to this national service organization, $3 million of which was geared toward City Year’s recruitment efforts. Our support helped generate more than 10,000 applications for the 2,000 positions City Year needed to fill. The result? The corps members selected helped 100,000 students at 187 high-need schools in 23 cities across the country stay in school and on track to graduate.   

Besides PSAs, Comcast also provides support in other ways. For example, we featured the Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s "Faces of the Future" campaign as the lead story on and our social media sites. Our support of the campaign, which strove to raise awareness about the importance of digital literacy, helped nearly double the number of Boys & Girls Clubs’ Facebook fans in the campaign’s first 10 days. 

In short, our philanthropy extends beyond just writing a check. In tens of thousands of airtime hours to many forms of employee service, our in-kind support provides real help for our nonprofit partners. 

What don’t people realize about Comcast’s giving?

I think that the value of our giving is really remarkable. Since 2001, Comcast has contributed more than $2.5 billion in cash and in-kind support to the communities we serve. It’s easy for a company to say it values community, but when you’ve invested as much as Comcast has into the neighborhoods and cities where our customers and employees live and work, you show that you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is. 

Comcast as a company has seen incredible growth over the past five years. How has that growth changed how Comcast gives?

While our capacity for giving has certainly increased, the biggest difference I see is in our employees’ involvement. Over the years, as our service areas expanded and our employee base grew, it would have been easy for us to lose our connection to community. Instead, what we have seen is greater employee engagement. An excellent example of our employees’ commitment is Comcast Cares Day. What started in 2001 with 6,000 volunteers at 100 projects is now the largest single-day corporate volunteer effort in the country ― in 2012 alone, more than 75,000 volunteers participated in 660 projects nationwide. 

What can we expect from Community Investment in 2013?

This year, you’ll be hearing more about personal stories. When we talk about results, we have a tendency to only look at the big picture. Numbers like "$2.5 billion in support" tell the scope of our giving, but they don’t tell the story. When we talk about the $100 million-plus Comcast has invested in digital literacy, we also want to tell you about Dennisse Calle, a freshman at Princeton University who achieved her dream of attending an Ivy League school with the help of our technology training programs. When you hear that Comcast supports half of the nation’s Boys & Girls Clubs, we want you to think of the Club in Trenton, N.J. where youth have found a safe haven from the streets and can learn about technology and service. In the coming year, we want to show you more of how Comcast is changing lives. Over the next year, as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, we will share more about our giving areas. Please watch Comcast Voices for monthly updates.