March 3, 2009

News Update: Conference Board Survey Suggests "Economic Downturn Will Have Major Effects on Corporate Philanthropy"

Here's another update in our ongoing discussion about the impact of the economic downturn on CSR (or in this case, specifically on corporate philanthropy): Today, The Conference Board released the results of a recent survey, which suggested that the recession will indeed be a blow for corporate philanthropy, from the perspective of quantity. In particular:
  • 45% of survey respondents (corporate giving officers at major U.S. companies) have reduced their 2009 giving budget, while an additional 16% are considering such cuts
  • 35% will reduce the number of grants they make this year, and 22% might do the same
  • 21% will cut the size of their grants, and 27% are considering this option

However, the survey gave me hope that these economic pressures could potentially increase the quality of corporate philanthropy. According to Carolyn Cavicchio, Senior Research Associate, Global Corporate Citizenship, The Conference Board (and, when she ran Changing Our World's Corporate Social Engagement Division, my former boss!), "There is a definite shift toward more critical business issues and an increased emphasis on measuring giving outcomes."

Why is that a good thing? I am a strong believer that corporate philanthropy should be a strategic as possible - and by that I mean, it should be a clear fit with the company's overall business model (just like every other part of the business - the HR strategy, marketing strategy, manufacturing strategy, etc. should also all support the overall corporate goals). The more a company sees a business benefit to corporate philanthropy, and to CSR in general, the more resources it will invest in such programs. (I see some CSR programs - say, employee safety - as a responsibility, rather than merely an opportunity, but to the extent that we can align business goals and social goals, we create more buy-in for CSR.) I also believe CSR should be results-oriented - I want to know, rather than simply believe, that we're having an impact on our goals. That way, if we're not, we can modify our approach.

I'm certainly concerned about the quantitative decline - especially since, as the survey respondents indicated, we're in a time of particularly high need. However, I’m hopeful that corporate philanthropy, and CSR in general, will emerge from the recession a bit stronger than before.

1 comment:

  1. I like your ideas of how the economic downturn will lead to more strategic CSR initiatives, hopefully more in line with a corporation's overall business model, and therefore more 'valuable' for them and in turn enduring and meaningful.
    I also hope that individuals and corporations will realize that much of the current economic meltdown was caused by irresponsible actions on the part of consumers and corporations. Hopefully, this will lead to a renewal in responsible business practices, more thoughtful consumerism and a general shift toward a more sustainable way of life. Of course, I am a dreamer. But I for one am trying to do what I can to make that dream a reality.