Philanthropy Is a Four-Letter Word: Suggestions for Real CSR

CSR-tigerBy Julie Lloyd

Bo Ekman, founder and chairman of the Tallberg Foundation, made a rather jarring statement at this afternoon’s Global Corporate Citizenship Conference sponsored by the US Chamber’s Business Civic Leadership Center:

Much of what we consider CSR today is a toothless tiger.

He was referring, of course, to the one-off engagements or donations often made by corporations in the name of social responsibility.  But this type of corporate philanthropy falls short–both in impact, and in benefits to the company–when stacked up against deeper, more meaningful partnerships that are embedded into its core values.

In this day and age, it’s no longer necessary to persuade corporations to undertake CSR–it’s simply a matter of identifying the most appropriate opportunities.  That being said, here are some suggestions echoed often throughout today’s sessions:

1.  “Core competencies” are the new black.

Companies are shifting more and more to strategies that are rooted in their core competencies.  Hands-on engagements and skills-based citizenship are ways to bring to bear the full weight of a company’s resources, which lead to more efficient, impactful solutions.

2.  Listen locally.

Companies like Microsoft, IBM and Dow Chemical know that the best place to get information about the greatest needs in a particular community is from the community itself.  All rely on local corporate citizenship teams around the world to evaluate the landscape and figure out where they can have the most impact.  An added bonus? Buy-in from the most important stakeholder–employees.

3.  Think long-term.

CSR to those who think (and manage) for the short term is a loss.  When it’s part of a long-term strategy, embedded into corporate culture and company values, CSR becomes an investment.

4.  Choose quality over quantity.

Both Dow Chemical and Microsoft favor a smaller number of key relationships or big grants to NGO’s rather than a larger number of one-offs.  This allows the engagements to be much more efficient and impactful, as they align their capabilities with the greatest needs.

These models of CSR may not be as trendy as donating to the ‘charity of the moment,’ but they are undoubtedly more sustainable, both to the company and to society.

Julie Lloyd is the Assistant Director of the Center for Social Value Creation at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.  Follow her Tweets for the Center at @CreatingValue.

The posts on this page are contributed by students from the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business in conjunction with the newly launched Center for Social Value Creation. The center's mission is to develop leaders with a deep sense of individual responsibility and the knowledge to use business as a vehicle for social change. These posts are a way to continue the dialogue outside of the classroom and share the viewpoints of Smith students on the challenges and opportunities of triple bottom line thinking.

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