CEOs have been a philanthropic force since before they were called CEOs. As part of his prolific giving, John D. Rockefeller founded medical research centers and schools of public health. Andrew Mellon supported the arts and higher education. Henry Ford, history preservation. In the economic surge that followed WWII, distribution of personal wealth was supplemented with a new focus on corporate giving, as major banks, manufacturers, and other companies established corporate giving programs and foundations. But even in these instances, where the money went was largely driven by the personal interests of the CEO.
But today, businesses are increasingly aligning their corporate giving with their strategic business goals. In the process, they’re finding that both their giving and their businesses are more effective.
They’re being helped by organizations like CECP. Founded in 1999 by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman and other leaders in business, CECP brings together CEOs and other corporate executives to share ideas and resources to effectively address societal challenges while driving business performance. CECP’s mission is to create a better world through business. It is a collation of CEOs who believe that societal progress is an essential measure of business performance. CECP conducts research that allows businesses to make data-driven decisions about their community engagement strategies. The companies of CECP’s one hundred and fifty affiliated CEOs accounted for $14 billion in corporate giving in 2012.
The Way I See It
- I see an ever-growing confluence between brand and corporate values. Far from being a fad, Corporate Social Responsibility is becoming a strategic pillar for many companies.
- I see not just philanthropy but civic engagement, in general, being used as a recruiting, retention, and professional development tool as more companies offer employees paid time off for volunteer work and other engagement-related perks to keep employees rewarded and energized.
- I see an increasing use of data in decision-making about philanthropy. Just as online mobile application tools like Charity Navigator are helping people make choices in personal giving, businesses are using data to measure the effectiveness of their philanthropy.
The Way the Industry Sees It
I sat down with Daryl Brewster, CEO of CECP, to discuss current trends in corporate societal investment and civic engagement.
CECP puts a lot of emphasis on its “convening power,” bringing CEOs and senior executives together to share ideas and resources. What’s the current conversation about? What ideas have them most excited?
We at CECP are very fortunate to host several remarkable conferences. Our annual CEO Board of Boards Roundtable in late February was just named one of the top three Power Player conferences by Forbes magazine. Our CECP Summit annually attracts some two hundred and fifty people from one hundred and fifty leading companies to New York each spring. And our new roundtable series – by region, industry or issue – continues to grow. Each interaction yields new insights, but the topics that companies are most excited about are:
What’s working and not working in the field?
How do we collaborate with other companies/organizations on critical challenges?
How do we communicate our societal efforts both internally and externally?
How do we measure efforts and results?
How does CECP differentiate between traditional philanthropy and civic or social engagement, and how are businesses exploiting that difference to be more profitable and be better corporate citizens?
Since its founding fifteen years ago by Paul Newman and several leading CEOs, CECP has believed that world’s leading companies can – and should – be a force for good in society. And in doing so, companies can not only help address societal challenges, but also strengthen employee engagement, brand reputation, insights into new products and services, and entry into new markets, while mitigating risk and building trust. CECP CEOs and companies are deploying a myriad of innovative strategies, from IBM’s “Smarter Cities” program to Mosaic’s “Global Villages” efforts (both CECP Excellence Award winners). CEOs are taking the lead. They are integrating efforts with corporate strategy, innovating in new ways, collaborating with other companies and organizations, and measuring their results.
What’s your sense of the public perception of corporate giving and civic engagement? Is it viewed as sincere or cynical, and how do those views change across age and other demographic divides?
It depends on the initiative and each company’s overall approach, but generally we have found that the public not only wants companies to give back, but is increasingly demanding it. Nielsen, the research company, recently published a global study that found that forty-three percent of United States shoppers (and forty-four percent around the world) say they are willing to “pay a premium for brands that they believe care” about the world. Companies must be authentic and transparent in their initiatives, because if they are, people will find out and any of the good will be for naught.