If I were to boil down the response I most often hear, it would go something like: “Philanthropy is when wealthy companies and organizations give back to the community because it’s a nice thing to do.”
While that definition is overly simplistic and skips a lot of important information, it does give us a baseline to work with, especially in answering the ‘who, what and how’ of the question.
However, it fundamentally fails to accurately describe the ‘why’ in philanthropy, and to me, it misses the entire reason philanthropy and corporate social responsibility exist.
Why do funders give? If they do it as mentioned above, only because “it’s a nice thing to do,” then they may not be fully engaging in the power of philanthropy.
Funders should give because it’s good business.
I look at it this way. A community is a three-legged stool: nonprofits, businesses and government form the legs of the stool; citizens make up the actual seat. Like a stool, each leg is vitally important. If one is failing, the entire community suffers.
Given this reasoning, I believe that it is important for all sectors to support the others; service delivery, philanthropy and taxes are all part of the equation for a healthy community.
From a business person’s perspective, I believe it is incumbent on all businesses to provide support to nonprofit organizations. Not because, “it’s a nice thing to do,” but because it is right for business and the community. Because nonprofits are mission driven, they are best suited to achieve results in, for example, social service areas where government and business are not equipped to succeed.
Our bank makes strategic investments in this community through the nonprofit organizations we support. Because these nonprofits are successful at improving the quality of life and economic circumstances for our citizens, my business and I directly benefit. Just as I make strategic decisions to hire the right people, occupy the right space or offer the right products, I also make a strategic decision to fund the nonprofits that help the community – from which I draw my clients.
Further clarified, it means that a company or firm understands that it has a responsibility to give of itself to customers, employees, shareholders (if applicable) and the community. That responsibility isn’t wrested in a sense of goodness or altruism – it’s wrested in the fundamental idea that giving of time, talent and treasure to nonprofits and service organizations is just plain good business.
After all, well-run businesses don’t finance their human resource departments to simply hire people they like. Nor do they pay property managers to site new business locations solely on a building’s color. So why should a company’s decision about philanthropic giving be any less strategic? I’d argue that the decisions for how a company spends its investment capital are just as important when considering community giving as they are with other expenditures.
In the end, corporate philanthropy should be much more than a positive feeling or attitude or “a nice thing to do.” If implemented correctly, a company’s community giving program is a strategic enterprise that aligns seamlessly with its business goals and with its culture. That, to me, fits very nicely in the definition of philanthropy.