I had the pleasure of speaking at Bloomberg headquarters today on International Philanthropy Day started by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. My fellow speakers were Mark Johnson of the International Rescue Committee and Ben Stein of Mobile Commons.
The question posed to me was how corporate philanthropy was changing in a social world. The answer is simple: profoundly. For a sector that for years resisted changing, the changes are coming fast and furious for corporate philanthropy. Here are my top 5 changes happening right now:
1. Philanthropy has moved from the annex to the marketing department. Used to be that philanthropy was a small, sleepy part of corporations that felt obliged to buy tickets to local events, give a sprinkling of small grants to anchor nonprofit efforts; food banks, after school programs, the arts. Not any more. Look at what the head of marketing for Pepsi had to say about their Pepsi Refresh contest:
“This was not a corporate philanthropy effort,” said Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo Beverages America. “This was using brand dollars with the belief that when you use these brand dollars to have consumers share ideas to change the world, the consumers will win, the brand will win, and the community will win. That was a big bet. No one has done it on this scale before.”
Here is a story from the Chronicle of Philanthropy of the ways that Western Union (yes, that Western Union) is folding philanthropy into their core business.
2. Corporate philanthropy is global. When brands are global so is their philanthropy. American companies have exported extended their philanthropic effort wherever they are doing business around the world.
3. How we expect corporations to behave has fundamentally changed. The unfortunate phrase, “corporate citizen” is here to stay. Cone, Inc published a study a few years ago called the Millennial Cause Study. It found that young people, Millennials, are drawn to support companies and brands that identify themselves with causes. They also want to work for corporations that not only support causes but enable them to do so as well. I learned today that Bloomberg gives grants of $1,500 grants to nonprofits for which employees volunteer at least 25 hours.
4. The Great Recession cut back on corporate dollars going out the door, the giving changed form into volunteering and in-kind donations. As US News and World Report reported: According to a survey by the CECP, 60 percent of companies cut their philanthropic donations from 2008 to 2009, and most of those trimmed them by more than 10 percent. That has helped fuel the move toward giving time and goods rather than money. According to a survey conducted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, when companies were asked how the recession has changed their philanthropy, by far the largest number said they were encouraging employees to volunteer more.
5. So What? Corporations are giving billions of dollars, employees are giving millions of hours and what does it all mean? I have no idea. As my friend Lucy Bernholz has noted, corporations who pledge to give profits are not required to report how much they gave, or even to whom. She cleverly calls this embedded giving. Corporations obviously have their own bottom line that needs tending to, particularly public corporations responsible to shareholders. And inevitably, corporate givers talk about wanting to change the world with their giving. But are they changing it, and if so, how? Not many are terribly interested in really understanding the answer to that question, even the questions to that question, for instance, what do we mean by change and for whom and by when, aren’t often asked. Sometimes, but not often. If a company gives, say, $5 million dollars for research to prevent breast cancer and more young women buy their yogurt/make-up/jeans is that good enough? I really don’t now, but I am enjoying asking the question!