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Philanthropy to Purpose: Corporate Social Strategy Expands

johnhowell headshotWords by John Howell
Brands Taking Stands
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CECP: The Force For Good has launched a new initiative, one that doubles down on the social strategy that has been the organization’s core focus since it was founded 20 years ago. The Investing in Society program is a “compendium of data, research, and case studies illustrating innovations in corporate efforts to solve the world’s most pressing problems.” The anthology is divided into five sections—Priorities, Performance, People, Planet, and Policies—that offer an overview of strategies and practices in each of these areas. The guiding principle is what is being done to “build a better world through business.” The overarching target subject is stakeholder needs, not shareholder dividends.

Acknowledging how much executive leadership matters, the Policies section addresses that key issue by asking, “What are companies doing to promote corporate governance through top-line decisions?” Analyzing those actions through the filter of social strategy, CECP’s new program is the latest evidence of how business is transforming its models to align with the Brands Taking Stands movement.

The back story

Several years ago, I attended an energizing conference sponsored by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy—CECP. CEOs, heads of foundations, investors, thought leaders, and CSR professionals convened in one of the more useful meetings of its kind I have attended. The talk was wide-ranging and insightful but always centered around the business case for a social strategy—how a company engages with key stakeholders—employees, communities, customers, and investors—to define success. To support this model, CECP helps “companies transform their social strategy by providing customized connections and networking, counsel and support, benchmarking and trends, and awareness building and recognition.”

That mission has grown dramatically since CECP was founded in 1999 by actor Paul Newman and other business leaders. Today, CECP counts as members 250 of the world’s largest companies that represent $6.6 trillion in revenues, $21.2 billion in social investment, 14 million employees, and $15 trillion in assets under management. With those kinds of numbers, the potential for positive impact is equally large.

Giving is still a good thing

The first CECP product I encountered was “Giving in Numbers,” its annual survey that sets benchmarks for corporate social investments. After 13 years of compiling and publishing the research, Giving in Numbers continues to be a valuable report, used by professionals to evaluate how corporations invest in society. In the 2018 edition, produced in association with The Conference Board, the news about philanthropy is good: total median giving increased by 15 percent compared to three years ago. The analysis of 2017 corporate giving and employee engagement data from more than 300 of the world’s largest companies showed an aggregate of $23.8 billion in giving and that 9 out of 10 companies match employee donations. Especially noted were corporate efforts aimed at disaster relief by UPS, Verizon, and Bank of America; at diversity and inclusion by Deloitte, Symantec, and Mastercard; and at military and veterans by USAA, Comcast, and Boeing.

What’s next for business in a purpose-driven climate?

At its most recent Forum, polling of the 60 attending CEOs produced this list of their top three business challenges: 1) Prepare for the future of work, 2) Employee diversity and inclusion, and 3) Mitigating short-termism. Further, 67 percent of CEOs reported that “the most effective bold move they can make toward sustainable business leadership over the long term is to speak publicly, in their own voice, on what their companies are doing and why.” You will note that there’s no mention of traditional CEO concerns such as markets, the competition, or profits as top problems. The underlying assumption in the three issues singled out is that if chief executives get it right about those identified challenges, the company will prosper and thrive, and investment will follow.

A change of name reflects a future forward direction

To underline this move to executive leadership and long-term investment, CECP has re-branded its acronym to Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose. The change marks the evolution of the organization after 20 years of practice to align its mission with the increasing connection being drawn today between a corporation’s profits and its purpose. Its original mission continues: “We steadfastly remain the CECP that corporate teams trust to help transform their social strategy,” says CEO Daryl Brewster. “We are an essential partner for business committed to solving the world’s most pressing problems.”

But redefining the “CP” as “Corporate Purpose” implies a much deeper engagement on the part of chief executives, and is an acknowledgement that the idea of corporate social responsibility is expanding from traditional philanthropy to the bottom line, driven by the increased interest of investors in the sustainability of long-term value creation. Creating value for a company is the major part of a CEO’s job definition, and investment in public companies plays a key role in setting strategy, from stock pricing to growth.

The bottom line

This re-branding aligns CECP with the current Brands Taking Stands movement, which looks to chief executives for leadership on key social issues. By convening the collective wisdom of the CEOs of its 250 member companies, the CECP coalition is perfectly positioned to make a large social impact as companies plan and act to ensure the future growth of their businesses through social strategies.

Previously published in the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter - be sure to subscribe!

Image credit: Pexels

John Howell headshotJohn Howell

John Howell, Chief of Thought Leadership and Editorial Director, is a co-founder of 3BL Media, the parent company of Triple Pundit, begun in 2009. Howell oversees original editorial content procurement and creation. He is also the author of the weekly Brands Taking Stands Newsletter. He has written and edited for Elle, Artforum, High Times, the New York Times Magazine, and the LA Times. Howell is based in Wonalancet, NH.

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