Corporate Philanthropy is Still Philanthropy

Posted on 19 March 2012

Corporate philanthropy is always a tricky subject. Few are naïve enough to think that corporations are completely altruistic in their giving, and many companies give simply to fulfill corporate social responsibility (CSR) policies rather than from a genuine desire to have a positive impact on their communities.

But does the motivation of a corporate donor really matter if the end result is beneficial to those in need?

Corporate social responsibility continues to face criticisms that it is simply a public-relations ploy for corporations looking to improve their brand image. You know what? That’s largely true. You know what else? It doesn’t matter.

It’s a little overly-idealistic to believe that corporations will suddenly sprout a soul and want to have a positive influence on the world. They are corporations. They exist to make money. That’s what they do. So criticizing them for not being selfless philanthropists doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Do the strings attached with much of this giving make it an ideal philanthropic vehicle? No. But does that mean corporate giving isn’t valuable for nonprofits? Of course not.

AT&T provides a good example of how self-centered CSR can still have a positive impact. Recently the company announced that it would commit $250 million to expand AT&T Aspire, a program started in 2008 to combat America’s high-school dropout rate. The new funding will support programs related to the use of technology in education, an employee mentorship program with high school students, and math and science curriculum in lower-income communities.

It’s not hard to see how these programs could benefit AT&T in the future, but that shouldn’t engender skepticism or criticism of their intentions. In fact, at the very top of the AT&T Aspire website, the company is quite clear that they created this program because “an educated workforce for the future is not only critical to the success of our nation, but to the success of our company as well.” (italics mine).

Cisco is one of many other examples of a company being transparent in its CSR motivations, admitting that its “programs are designed to provide long-term benefits to our employees, customers, shareholders, partners, and individuals in communities around the world.” Notice how customers and shareholders are right there with individuals in the community?

Corporations want to make more money. Everything they do revolve around that goal, even their CSR policies. But that doesn’t mean their money can’t be used to help those in need. Once we stop blaming corporations for not living up to inaccurate images of CSR as altruistic philanthropic vehicles, we can concentrate on working with them to ensure that worthy causes benefit from their giving.

2 responses to Corporate Philanthropy is Still Philanthropy

  • anne says:

    Motives aside, the amount of “good work” that is executed on a daily basis thanks to corporate philanthropy is monumental. And I challenge naysayers to think about what the world would look like if it went away.

    • Brian says:

      Great point Anne.
      I often wonder what critics of corp giving feel the alternative should be. No corp giving? (increased oversight isn’t realistic, or necessary in my opinion).
      Obviously, it’s not perfect, but it’s a valuable source of giving for a great many nonprofits. Ideas for refining and improving the system is much better than just criticizing the motives of corporate giving.

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