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Corporate Giving Programs Still Going Strong

Words by Leon Kaye

Corporate giving programs are still a large component of many company’s social responsibility strategies. The roots go back to corporate philanthropy dating back to the era of the Rockefellers, Morgans and Carnegies. The practice of giving has its share of critics, including here on TriplePundit. And while writing checks does not substitute for actually “doing good” on social, environmental and corporate governance issues, watch the practice to continue. And it should: at least here in the United States, many institutions, from leading cultural centers to public libraries, have their roots in the Gilded Age of the late 19th century.

Now the structure of many companies (i.e., they are publicly owned) complicates the efforts of companies that wish to launch more robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs. And more stakeholders demand that companies move beyond a foundation or doling out checks. So these companies are responding in kind, from Unilever boldly committed to doubling sales while slashing its economic impact to Ford tinkering with recyclable and even edible materials in its cars--but both companies still run giving programs. Corporate giving programs are here to stay, and are one tool in a company’s kit to engage their employees and improve the communities in which they conduct business. We cover a few leading examples below.

Microsoft: Microsoft may still be a behemoth, but is a dutiful one and an exemplar on the CSR front. Thirty years ago the once “tiny” company with 200 employees raised $17,000 for nonprofits. Now that yearly mark has topped $1 billion: the contributions of 35,000 employees have reached 31,000 non-profits since the program launched in 1983. Year after year, the company matches its employees’ contributions, and Microsoft raises additional funds from a bevy of activities from a 5K run to online auctions. The giving goes beyond cash; employees at Microsoft have access to an online volunteering matching tool that connects them to nonprofits who can benefit from their skills. Microsoft Citizenship is indeed no oxymoron--its emphasis on giving is part of its new $500 million YouthSpark initiative to solve unemployment problems while building technical skills around the world.

Toyota: Since 1974, Toyota and its eponymous charitable foundation has completed much good work on both sides of the Pacific. In 2010, the Toyota Foundation shifted its focus as a response to the increased threats across the globe, including environmental degradation and food security. From its headquarters in Nagoya, Toyota provided grants totaling almost $6 million (¥533 million) during FY2011; out of its U.S. headquarters in Torrance, CA, Toyota USA has donated over half a billion dollars to American nonprofits since 1991.

IBM: Corporate giving at IBM is an example of how a company can link community building to the company’s overall strategic initiatives. Each year, the Armonk, NY-based firm provides tens of millions of dollars for a variety of grant programs. The Smarter Cities Challenge will involve 100 cities divvying up $50 million in grants that will fund projects ranging from urban farming to leveraging technology for greater civic participation. A community grant program links IBM employees and retirees who wish to volunteer for nonprofit groups. Retirees in North America also can have IBM match their donations to organizations such as schools, environmental groups and even hospices. Of course, technology is a large component of IBM’s corporate giving, with millions given annually to support information technology projects within the nonprofit sector.

So philanthropy and corporate giving programs are not going away; this decades-old movement has merely morphed into a more democratic process that touches more people with a wide array of passions. Other companies have a long tradition of doing well: Target has been an engaged community stakeholder for a half century and Boeing is well regarded for its spirit of generosity. Add the countless small and medium enterprises whose donations of time and money go unheralded, and corporate giving will proliferate across the globe even more in the future--thankfully as there are a multitude of problems that must be solved that governments cannot handle.

Did we skip someone? Please share your examples of best-in-practice corporate giving programs with us.

** The author would like to thank Dr. Marcy Murninghan, Susan McPherson of Fenton and Dave Stangis of Campbell Soup Company for their input.

Leon Kaye, based in Fresno, California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable BrandsInhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost). He will explore children’s health issues in India next month with the International Reporting Project.

[Image credit: Microsoft's Technet Blog]

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.

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