Corporate grant makers are going to increasingly focus their giving on programs closely related to their businesses, said several experts at a conference here on corporate citizenship.
“We see corporations more and more want to align their philanthropy with their business model, with their core competencies,” said Charles H. Moore, executive director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy. “Companies want to be part of a solution.”
He said corporate philanthropies are giving more multi-year grants, and focusing giving on causes where the company has specific expertise. He said companies also are increasingly encouraging their employees to volunteer for activities where they can bring specific skills to solving entrenched problems.
Mr. Moore, whose organization includes more than 175 corporate chief executives and chairmen, also predicted that corporate giving would increase in 2008 despite the economic downturn.
However, another speaker said that is highly unlikely.
“Companies that have eliminated jobs and cut dividends will find it hard to justify to shareholders and employees that they are increasing philanthropic giving,” said Andrew D. Plepler, president of the Bank of America Charitable Foundation.
He agreed with Mr. Moore that corporate foundations, like the one he heads, are becoming more focused on giving that could potentially help the bottom line. Mr. Plepler said that Bank of America’s long history of supporting community groups in struggling areas and supporting low-income tax credits helped give it the credibility to absorb Countrywide Financial Corporation, a lender that had been at the epicenter of the sub-prime lending crisis which has precipitated steep declines in the stock market.
“The holistic story” of Bank of America’s involvement in the community is “what carried the day” at Federal Reserve Board hearings about the bank’s acquisition of Countryside, said Mr. Plepler.
Paul Brest, president of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, agreed that it is wise for companies to encourage employees to volunteer in ways that use their professional skills. “To the extent that you align volunteerism with activities your employees are actually good at, that adds tremendous value,” he said.
The conference, “Corporate Citizenship: Building a Sustainable Business,” is being held by The Economist magazine. The Chronicle of Philanthropy is a supporting organization of the conference. The event, which attracted about 150 guests, concludes today.
Doing Good and the Bottom Line
Much of the talk at the event has centered on the idea that doing good work in the neighborhoods they serve and the environment is good for a company’s bottom line.
Ray C. Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface Inc., a Georgia carpet manufacturer, has become a leading acolyte for environmentally safe production since a revelation he had in 1994 that “I was a plunderer,” he said. The company has a goal of eliminating “any negative impact Interface has on the environment by 2020.”
“Certainly there is more to business than to make a profit,” said Mr. Anderson, author of the recent book, Mid-Course Correction, Toward a Sustainable Enterprise: The Interface Model. “I can’t imagine a businessman who plans to stand before his Maker and talk about shareholder value.”
Marty Van Der Werf is director of Chronicle Information Services, a unit of The Chronicle of Higher Education and The Chronicle of Philanthropy.