Corporate Philanthropy and Citizenship Leaders Need a New Script

Earlier this month, a group of corporate citizenship leaders representing a range of industries assembled in New York to answer this question: What must we do to transform the corporate philanthropy and corporate citizenship fields?

The context of the question comes at a time when business’ role in society has been fundamentally altered. Globalization and the declining capacity of governments means the private sector is increasingly being asked-and sometimes required-to solve seemingly intractable global challenges in health, environment, education, and poverty alleviation. At the same time, leading corporations and their stakeholders are increasingly convinced that integrated business and social strategies are not only compatible, but good and necessary for their future prosperity.

Corporate citizenship and corporate philanthropy have leading roles to play in catalyzing business to create social and financial value. But, a mindset and role shift is required to move the field forward and realize the promise of the approach.

While corporate philanthropy-sometimes described as the “headlights” of corporate social responsibly-is eager to claim its full potential and contribute its unique value to society, significant barriers encumber the field. Internally, philanthropy and corporate citizenship functions are too often disconnected and marginalized from core business strategies. Externally, a lack of standardization means the collective impact and potential of the full range of corporate assets-beyond just the dollars-is too easily and too quickly overlooked. As a result, recognition of the true potential of philanthropy and corporate citizenship is fundamentally challenged by the story of who we are, what we do, and why we do it. We need a new narrative.

To help the field address these urgent issues and re-imagine the future, the Council on Foundations recently launched an exciting initiative masked by a pedestrian name, “Corporate Philanthropy 2012.” Sponsored and led by leading global companies, the project’s aim is to inspire a paradigm shift to reorient corporate philanthropy and corporate citizenship and equip the field with a practical roadmap on how to get there. The June 3 workshop in New York was part of an ongoing dialogue with corporate leaders that included six regional meetings earlier this year.

I know this transformational journey is one that the corporate field must take if we’re serious about maximizing our value and impact in society. I encourage you to follow along with us by weighing in through this blog post and others to come.

David Etzwiler is a Council board member, chair of the Global Philanthropy Committee, and immediate past chair of the Corporate Committee. He was most recently the vice president of Community Affairs and executive director of the Medtronic Foundation. Etzwiler co-chairs the Corporate Philanthropy 2012 Task Force with Ann Cramer of IBM. 

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