Redefining the Roles of Corporate Foundations and Philanthropy

With input from IBM and nine other leading companies, the Council on Foundations just launched an ambitious initiative to revitalize and redefine the roles of corporate foundations and philanthropy. Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Corporate Philanthropy establishes a roadmap to help those involved in corporate philanthropy dramatically increase its social and business value by moving away from “philanthropy as charity” and adopting a 21st century model based on leadership, innovation, and creation of sustainable value.

“We have never seen more challenging times for philanthropy. These challenges compel us to move away from old models and practices and focus renewed energy on bringing about meaningful change—creating sustainable value,” explains Ann Cramer, Americas director, IBM Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs. “The Council’s Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value initiative speaks directly to the need to align our approach to corporate philanthropy with the realities of a globally connected world.”

Our report is the result of an 18-month study that engaged corporate philanthropy practitioners and external stakeholders throughout the United States in a discussion of the challenges and opportunities facing corporate philanthropy in the 21st century. Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value addresses an environment in which government and communities are looking to business for leadership on social issues as never before. A 2009 Waggener Edstrom Poll found that 60 percent of consumers now believe that businesses are in the best position to create positive results on social issues. By contrast, only 14 percent of respondents believed that governments can drive positive results.

Sixty-four percent of respondents to a 2010 Edelman survey said they believe it is no longer enough for corporations to give money. Instead, they must integrate good causes into their everyday business. As companies work to meet this challenge through strategies such as “shared value,” philanthropy must redefine its role to support this transformation. Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value establishes goals for this transformation, identifies the challenges to be addressed, and details potential leadership opportunities. Key initiatives include:

  • Creating a new narrative for corporate philanthropy as social investment
  • Developing an inclusive protocol for philanthropic investment
  • Professionalizing the practice of corporate philanthropy
  • Improving collaboration, communication, and knowledge sharing
  • Mobilizing grassroots leadership

As a global leader of corporate philanthropy’s transformation from “checkbook charity” to creating sustainable value, IBM has played an important role in the development of the Council’s agenda. IBM initiatives such as Corporate Services Corps, Smarter Cities Challenge, and Supplier Connection are powerful examples of how a commitment to service can help solve society’s challenges while creating lasting value. The Council looks forward to continuing to work with IBM as we support and encourage the evolution of corporate philanthropy.

Chris Pinney is project lead for the Corporate Philanthropy 2012 project and author of Increasing Impact, Enhancing Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Corporate Philanthropy. He is a senior fellow at the Aspen Institute Business and Society Program and senior vice president of the Alliance for Business Leadership.

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