The New Face of Corporate Philanthropy

The Governor General recently framed philanthropy as “time, talent and treasure”, noting that two-thirds of the meaning had nothing to do with money. Wait a minute… isn’t philanthropy all about the money? Well, not any more if it ever was. A growing consciousness about global disparities and what is required for our collective wellbeing is altering our worldview. This consciousness is emerging out of a number of social forces shifting the philanthropic plates and creating a new face of giving. You may want to ask whether you and your organization are part of this emerging landscape.

One of the social shifts is our now digital world – we are indeed McLuhan’s global village. In this networked village, diverse stakeholders connect to create partnerships across language, culture and geographic boundaries as well as business, social and government sectors, young and old, haves and have-nots. A new generation of leaders has grown up in this new digital age. They are more aware, more concerned, more engaged in social issues both locally and internationally. They are learning languages, participating in cultures and experiencing diversities that prepare them for global governance. Corporations who want to connect to these new leaders as employees and consumers are adding social innovation and development criteria to their ethical policies.

For example, giving staff time off to volunteer, developing leaders through participation in international development efforts like building homes and schools or donating technical expertise, and creating partnerships with other corporations, governments, social agencies and donors to build broad alliances and heighten impacts. One such partnership is Encore, a nonprofit dedicated to supporting midlife boomers in finding second careers with “purpose, passion and a paycheque”, funded by a variety of foundations and corporations as varied as HP, Cargill and UPS.

This brings me to the second shift: the search for innovation that combines business with contribution, doing well financially while doing good socially. Many corporations have set up private foundations to support their social interests, like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, dedicated to bringing innovations in health, development, and learning to the global community. And closer to home, many Community Foundations support innovation in meeting the social, environmental and economic needs of our communities.

On a much smaller organizational scale, there are a growing number of passionate young entrepreneurs who have a vision of a better world and dedicate themselves to achieving it. These ‘social entrepreneurs’ are the pathfinders who are approaching local and global development with this new worldview and demonstrating with their innovative approaches how much can be done with less ‘treasure’ and more ‘time and talent’. Ashoka describes the social entrepreneur as “a mass recruiter of local changemakers – a role model proving that citizens who channel their passion into action can do almost anything”.

These entrepreneurs highlight the third shift in philanthropy – a change of focus in our ways of thinking about not only what we give but how we give it. The nonprofits they establish represent a movement toward solutions from within local communities that are culturally appropriate and economically sustainable and away from more traditional forms of aid from without. They arise from listening and learning rather than telling and assuming. They celebrate what local people have already accomplished and support its dissemination. They empower local groups with the confidence to actively seek a different future.

How does this all add up? I see in these examples a significant shift in perspective toward more private, more engaged, more self-directed ways of giving at every level of society. We not only want to know where our money is going, and how much is being spent on getting it there, but we also want to go right along with it. We want to understand the problems we are addressing and lend a hand where we can. We want to see the impact we are having on the lives we touch through increased transparency and accountability from social sector organizations. This shift in no ways discounts the value of financial assistance. Rather, it adds immeasurably to the possibilities for addressing our social needs and the chances of their sustainable success. How might you be part of the (r)evolution?