(Originally published in the May issue of Corporate Philanthropy Report, available online to current subscribers at publication.)
The future of corporate philanthropy—and corporate social responsibility in general—is likely to look much different than it does today, and the main difference will be a shift away from traditional cash giving and toward addressing social challenges through business. Put another way: Companies will no longer just hand out money and products to the nonprofits they align with. They will be engaged in solving social problems for profit.
That’s the key lesson from a debate, convened at the recent Business Civic Leadership Center National Conference in Atlanta, that featured a host of corporate responsibility experts from the private and nonprofit sectors. According to the group, the future of CSR lies in placing social purpose at the core of a company—“integrating it with the business’s DNA”—so that a company’s products, services, suppliers, employment practices and environmental policies all contribute to solving a social problem.
Themes along those lines were echoed by each of the BCLC debaters, including Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy; Richard Crespin, executive director of the Corporate Responsibility Officer Association; Michael Jacobson, corporate responsibility director for Intel; and Chris Pinney, a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute. While the debaters did not agree on all things, they did all acknowledge that traditional cash-focused philanthropy is not sufficiently addressing the social challenges that the world faces, and will face in coming years. What’s needed, they say, are programs and strategies that leverage just about every aspect of a business—every contact point between it and society—to work on social good.
That means creating products that help solve a social problem; making financial investments in organizations, companies and communities that lead to social progress; managing a business’s environmental impact—including the selection of its suppliers—so that it leaves the smallest footprint possible, or even produces a net environmental benefit; utilizing the skills and experience of employees to provide the professional support that charities need to thrive; and just as importantly, implementing marketing strategies that capitalize on these efforts in ways that lead to more sales, loyal customers and better employees.
The recent recession has, in some ways, helped to spur this transition, according to Kyle Peterson, managing director of nonprofit consultancy FSG and one of the debaters. With giving budgets tight, many companies were pushed to ask what value they were getting from their philanthropy programs.
Accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers is one such company. According to Maryann Holsberg, director of PWC’s corporate relations program, the recession caused the firm to rethink where and how it was spending its social investment dollars, and how that compared to PWC’s other major asset—its employees.
“We’ve taken a shift from dollars to time, using our people to demonstrate our charitable outreach versus pure dollars alone,” Holsberg said.
PWC is not alone in that, according to Margaret Coady of the CECP. While conducting surveys for the CECP’s annual Giving in Numbers report, the group found that during the Great Recession, many companies started looking for ways in which they could support nonprofits through non-monetary means.
“When cash was in limited supply, businesses started asking themselves, What else do we have that can serve the nonprofit community?” Coady said. The answers to that question ranged from the obvious—like skills-based volunteer support—to the more creative—like arranging for a nonprofit’s use of company facilities and helping charities renegotiate their various contracts.
Integrating that kind of creativity and innovation into a company’s broader operations is what will drive future corporate responsibility efforts and, in the long run, transform corporate philanthropy from a cost burden to a profit center.
To access the CECP’s Giving in Numbers study in full, go to www.corporatephilanthropy.org.
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