Leading Corporate Philanthropy

This is an incredibly exciting time at the Council on Foundations. We recently wrapped up our Fall Conference for Community Foundations Conference in San Diego, our fourth major conference since I came to the Council. We have launched several major products, such as a study on private foundation investment strategies, a field guide on impact investing, and a strategy toolkit. We also created a series of useful materials for Community Foundation Week that will allow our members to more effectively tell their stories of place-based philanthropy.

I am always drawn to an essay that talks about how we are motivated to give, especially when the main character is a guide dog named Lucy. In a thoughtful and thought-provoking piece in the New York Times, Paul Sullivan shared a story about his, and his wife’s, support of groups involved with helping the blind. Sullivan’s personal narrative highlights a couple of tensions faced by grantmakers. Although his essay is directed to individual givers, the author managed to touch upon some of the big questions faced by all philanthropists.

Corporate philanthropy has an opportunity to redefine the purpose and value for corporate foundations and giving programs. Visionary leaders in our field have proven that when corporate philanthropy is managed as an investment in society, it can become a powerful catalytic force for change. On April 29, 2012, the Council released a seminal report for the corporate philanthropy field, Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Leading Corporate Philanthropy. The guide offers original field research and a new platform for corporate philanthropy, and provides clear and practical paths forward for the future of the field and the role of corporate foundations.

As I continue to reflect on the Council’s recent publication, Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Corporate Philanthropy, I am reminded of author Chris Pinney’s suggestion that this is a leadership moment for corporate philanthropy. There are at least three reasons for this:

A well-respected colleague and I recently had a troubling conversation. While we agreed that we are entering into a new era of corporate philanthropy, we found ourselves in a circular conversation with no shared platform to speak from about our differing strategies to achieve the triple bottom line impact.

Corporate philanthropy functions are increasingly emphasizing return on investment (RoI) in their grantmaking. Understandably, corporate foundations want to use their funding, energy, and time as effectively as possible. But for the Pfizer Foundation, evaluation is a tool to help refine our grantmaking, not an end in itself.

The Council on Foundations’ Corporate Philanthropy 2012 project calls for a “reinvention” of corporate philanthropy, in part through a core group of leaders/practitioners who are willing to “guide, adopt, test, and validate new management approaches.”

Major societal challenges-poverty, hunger, inconsistent access to high-quality education and health care-adversely affect hundreds of millions of people on our planet. The business community can play a vital role in addressing these complex problems. To make a meaningful contribution, businesses must evolve the way they think about the concept of corporate responsibility (CR).