Academic journal article Social Work

Corporate Strategic Philanthropy: Implications for Social Work

Academic journal article Social Work

Corporate Strategic Philanthropy: Implications for Social Work

Article excerpt

Corporate charitable giving in 1994 totaled close to $6.9 billion (Murawski, 1996). However, according to research by the Conference Board, corporate contributions to health and human services as a percentage of total corporate philanthropy has dropped since 1972 by close to 17 percent (Platzer, 1988; Tillman, 1995). That is, corporate contributions to health and human services declined from a high of 42.0 percent of total giving in 1972 to 25.3 percent in 1994. Furthermore, evidence suggests that federated campaign giving, about nine of every 10 dollars of which goes to the United Way, has been the major target (Brilliant, 1990; Dundjerski, 1995; Guskind, 1993; Platzer & Duffy, 1989).

The decline in corporate giving to health and human services is of immediate concern. This trend comes at a time when funding from other sources to health and human services, particularly human services, also is eroding (Gray, 1997; Karger & Stoesz, 1990; Moskowitz, 1989). Many health and human services organizations use corporate donations for capital projects, as start-up funding, to leverage other funding sources, and to balance operating budgets.

A second trend in corporate philanthropy may be affecting corporate charitable donations (Marx, 1997). Numerous authors have discussed the transition to "strategic philanthropy" in corporate contributions management (Burke, 1992; Burlingame, 1994; Cloud, 1991; Coy & Nolan, 1992; Drucker, 1989; Hunt, 1986; Logsdon, Reiner, & Burke, 1990; MacAllister, 1991; Murray, 1991; C. Smith, 1994; H. Smith, 1993; Wood, 1990; Zetlin, 1990). Wood defined the concept as "an overt effort to link corporate giving with the firm's economic objectives" (p. 549). Logsdon et al. defined strategic philanthropy as the process by which contributions are targeted "to serve direct business interests while also serving beneficiary organizations" (p. 95). Strategic philanthropy directs contributions to stakeholders and to societal issues that are important to the success of business strategic plans. For example, rather than give to United Way, a publishing corporation may derive more benefit to the company by giving directly to selected literacy projects. The aim is to do well by doing good. This study uses Wood's (1990) and Logsdon et al.'s (1990) definition of strategic philanthropy.

What exactly does strategic philanthropy involve? More specifically, in practice, what activities characterize the strategic management of corporate philanthropy? This question was examined as part of a larger study on corporate giving to the United Way and health and human services partnerships (Marx, 1996, 1997). The few previous empirical studies addressing the question (Coy & Nolan, 1992; Logsdon et al., 1990; Zippay, 1992) were limited by relatively small sample sizes. This study was a national survey of corporate programs. The findings suggest that strategic philanthropy is not as "strategic" as the business management literature and media claim and may indicate opportunities for health and human services to obtain a greater share of future corporate contributions.

Professionalization of Corporate Philanthropy

Management writers (Alexander & Alexander, 1982; Eisenberg, 1982; Garvin, 1982; Jones, 1982; McGrath, 1976; Wilson, 1982) observed many years ago that the professionalization of corporate philanthropy requires a strategic approach to charitable contributions. Galvin claimed that "a well-managed program of corporate philanthropy requires a set of goals and objectives; guidelines for determining how much money will be allocated to the program; criteria for making grants and for evaluating their use; and either in-house professional staff or access to competent consultants" (p. 25). Wilson encouraged the linkage of contribution and business objectives: "Increased professionalism can result in a more focused approach to giving as corporations expand their contributions programs. …

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