May 11, 2010

6 Questions with CECP Director Margaret Coady

After a long lull, I’m very excited to be getting back to posting on Reimagining CSR.  I’m especially excited to introduce a new feature, entitled “6 Questions with…”  On a periodic basis, I’ll be sitting down with (ok, probably emailing with) intriguing people in the world of CSR.  We’ll have the opportunity to learn about their career paths and their day-to-day experiences as CSR professionals, their insights into trends and challenges in the field, and the interesting activities with which they’re currently involved. 

I hope to capture the diversity of this field by interviewing people in a range of positions – working in-house at companies, at consulting firms, at industry associations, and at nonprofits; in corporate philanthropy, in socially-responsible business, in cause marketing, and in environmental roles; who spend their days thinking about the supply chain, about financials, about key stakeholders, or about compliance; and the many other niches that make up the world of CSR.  If there’s anyone in particular that you would like to see featured, please email me at reimaginingcsr (at) gmail (dot) com.  I know that this blog tends to be a bit skewed towards corporate philanthropy, as that’s where the bulk of my experience and network lie, so I would particularly appreciate requests for or recommendations of professionals in other areas of CSR.

We’ll be starting this feature by talking with Margaret Coady, the Director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, which bills itself as “A network of global CEOs committed to corporate philanthropy.”  I first met Margaret when I was a corporate philanthropy consultant at Changing Our World, and she was a wealth of information about whatever facet of the sector we happened to be researching on a given day.  Margaret and I kept in touch when we both started business school (she while continuing to work full time!), bonding over our shared experience learning all about cranberries.  (Did you know they bounce?)  Margaret sits in a fascinating place in this world, with visibility into the work of many of the country’s top corporate philanthropists – and increasingly, as the organization expands globally, the world’s.  She was kind enough to share that view with us here at Reimagining CSR.

Jessica: How did your career and life experiences lead you to the field of corporate social responsibility and to your current position?

Margaret: I began my career as an information technology consultant with PricewaterhouseCoopers, immediately followed by two years as a technology product manager at an Internet start-up in San Francisco (the first year epitomized the spirit of dot-com invincibility; in the second year, everything came somewhat unhinged).  Missing the cultural life of NYC, I moved east and became the Assistant Director of a prominent mid-town art gallery.  That was a great experience (my friends have heard plenty of behind-the-scenes stories), but I wanted to get back to a career with more of a corporate twist. 

Although CECP is a nonprofit, our membership consists of over 150 leading corporate CEOs and we also work closely with the senior giving professionals at those companies.  My first role at CECP was as the Research Specialist, charged with growing our proprietary Corporate Giving Standard benchmarking system, which now contains over $60 billion in detailed giving data.  This challenge put my IT, sales, marketing, and product strategy skills to great use (as well as my undergraduate liberal arts degree).  I was promoted to CECP’s Director, under Charlie Moore, within a few years.  In 2009, I graduated as valedictorian of the Executive MBA program at Columbia Business School; the learning from those courses has been worth its weight in gold in my new strategic role.

Jessica: What do you do all day?

Margaret: In addition to day-to-day management, the short answer is that I draft the strategic course for CECP’s research publications, events, and programs.  After all, CECP is only relevant if our work fills the immediate unmet needs of our member companies.  Yet it is important for CECP to keep an eye on the horizon, too, since it is a luxury for companies to look too far into the future given increasing pressures on their time. 

Recent projects of mine include: crafting a definition and dollar valuation for pro bono service (with our partners at the Taproot Foundation); working alongside the U.N. Global Compact to draft Principles of Responsible Social Investment (to be announced this summer by the Secretary General); shaping the content agenda for CECP’s newsletter, The Corporate Philanthropist, and our CEO conference series; writing the latest edition of CECP’s benchmarking report, Giving in Numbers, and managing the selection process for CECP’s Excellence Awards in Corporate Philanthropy.  However, CECP is fundamentally a roll-up-your-sleeves organization, so I spent an hour today stuffing invitations for a special dinner we are hosting at the House of Lords in London before our first CEO conference abroad.

Jessica: What is one of the most exciting trends that you observe in the world of CSR?

Margaret: The most important and inspiring trend that I see across our corporate membership is the commitment to proactively engage in problem-solving on tough issues. The walls that separate funders, grantees, governments, multilaterals, activists and others are falling away as each change agent instead focuses on bringing its skills and resources to bear on today’s most difficult social challenges.  Specifically, I see the work that Nestle, and Mark Kramer and Michael Porter, have done on the concept of “shared value” starting to take root more deeply among companies.  This philosophy advocates for not simply aligning giving strategy with business strategy—but synthesizing the two.  Essentially the idea is that companies must focus on social issues that directly touch the value chain of the business.  By concentrating their efforts on social issues that create opportunities (or obstacles) to corporate growth, businesses simultaneously help society and their bottom line.  In other words, corporate philanthropy is no longer a complementary function—it is essential to the company’s growth and wholly intertwined with the broader objectives of the business.  We’re very excited to discuss this concept in more depth at our upcoming Corporate Philanthropy Summit in June, and have tried to take some of these ideas further for our corporate CEO audience in our latest research.

Jessica:  What big challenge is currently facing CSR professionals and/or companies?

Margaret: Corporate organizational charts do not always position philanthropy and CSR professionals to actualize the full potential of their roles.  These functions can deliver immense value, but not when they are in a silo, understaffed, or improperly staffed.  The strategic nature of these roles has only recently begun to be broadly understood, and many companies have yet to fill them with the right talent to get the job done—or to empower that talent to get results. 

Jessica: What's one interesting thing that your organization is up to?  (Go ahead, brag a little.)

Margaret: One of CECP’s judging criteria for our Excellence Awards is a commitment to measurement (the others are innovation, CEO leadership, and partnership).  We believe measurement is essential to effective giving (the adage ‘what gets measured, gets managed’ applies here), which is why we invest so heavily in research and systems that allow companies to track and benchmark their giving.  This year, with the help of the U.N. Global Compact and partner organizations around the world, we are working to expand our measurement framework to be applicable internationally—essentially, we are striving to build a global measurement framework for corporate philanthropy.  Our vision is to create a common understanding of what is considered corporate philanthropy, and how contributions should be valued.  With this in hand, we can paint a rich portrait of global corporate giving and track its evolution over time.  I encourage anyone with insight in this area to email my colleague Alison Rose.

Jessica: CECP recently celebrated its 10th anniversary.  How has corporate philanthropy changed in past the ten years, and how do you hope it changes in the next ten years?

Margaret: At CECP, we decided to celebrate our 10-year anniversary not by looking backward, but instead by challenging ourselves and our membership to consider what the world—and the environment for corporate philanthropy—could look like in the year 2020 if we proactively adopt a solutions-oriented mindset on local and global social issues.  We needed help to do this, so in addition to interviewing numerous thought leaders ourselves, we enlisted McKinsey & Company to work with us to outline the game-changing trends (demographic, environmental, technological, and geopolitical) that will shape the business landscape in 2020.  This work outlines what companies need to do to prepare for the certain (and somewhat less certain) forces headed our way.  I won’t preview our conclusions here, but instead invite anyone who is interested to download a free copy of the report from our website when it is available in late May 2010:

January 13, 2010

Corporate Response to the Haitian Earthquake: Update, 1/13/10

The US Chamber of Commerce's Business Civic Leadership Center is tracking the corporate philanthropy response to the earthquake in Haiti here. Other great sources of such information include CSRWire and PRNewswire. Know something about corporate involvement in relief efforts that isn't included on those sites? Please share it in the comments below.

January 12, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti - How Companies Can Help

As I’m sure you’ve heard, a big earthquake hit Haiti today. While details are relatively limited at this point, it seems clear that the earthquake has taken a major toll. In the wake of such disasters, companies often step up with offers of support, but in the confusing hours and days after such an event, it can be hard to know how to help.

Just after the 2004 tsunami, I wrote this article for onPhilanthropy about how companies can best contribute to disaster relief efforts. While it’s several years old, I think the advice is still relevant, so I’m posting it for those of you who may spend Wednesday working on your own company’s response.

Here are a few other resources that might be useful:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Business Civic Leadership Center has a website focused on supporting companies around issues of disaster relief. The page has a ton of great information, including a phone number specifically for companies that “Need help responding to … a disaster”. Tomorrow, as information (hopefully) starts coming out quickly, the best way to stay up to date might be Twitter – follow the Center @chamberbclc or its Executive Director, Stephen Jordan, @scjordan.

The Council on Foundations published a guide called “Disaster Grantmaking: A Practical Guide for Foundations and Corporations”, which you can find here. (Note that this link is to a PDF.)

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy also has a website dedicated to resources for companies engaged in disaster response efforts.

I find information sharing to be critically important in times like these, so if anyone comes across specific information about how companies can be helpful in responding to this particular earthquake, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share it in the comments below. Similarly, please share any resources you find that may be helpful for companies considering whether and how to help. Finally, if your company makes a donation, or if you hear about a company that does, please share that, as well, so that we can begin to track the corporate response to this earthquake.

Thank you, and good luck to everyone involved in this effort.

January 11, 2010

Goldman Sachs Update - Employee Giving

Happy New Year! Yesterday's New York Times had a bit of an update on the Goldman corporate philanthropy story we've been following here on Reimagining CSR (see past articles here, here and here). has a round-up of related stories here.

According to the paper, "As it prepares to pay out big bonuses to employees, Goldman Sachs is considering expanding a program that would require executives and top managers to give a certain percentage of their earnings to charity." The article goes on to say, "While the details of the latest charity initiative are still under discussion, the firm's executives have been looking at expanding their current charitable requirements for months and trying to understand whether such gestures would damp public anger over pay…"

The most recent article doesn't provide much new information, other than what the paper reported on the same subject this past fall, beyond demonstrating that the concept is apparently still alive. However, it does compare the concept to an employee-giving program at Bear Stearns: "The charity idea would be similar to a decades-long program at the failed investment bank Bear Stearns, which required more than 1,000 of its top workers to give 4 percent of their pay to charity each year and then checked their tax returns to ensure compliance." It then goes on to estimate the impact of such a program, "Assuming a similar percentage and level of participation."

Granted, that's a big assumption - the article doesn't give any definite information about the number of workers or percent of pay that would be involved in a Goldman program - but the Bear Stearns program is still useful as a benchmark. If the company were indeed to implement an employee giving program along the lines of what's being discussed, and if the numbers looked something like Bear Stearns', my question is this - would this program actually have any impact on the overall giving by affected employees? That is, do the company's top earners (elsewhere in the NYTimes article, we learn, "For their work in 2008, 953 Goldman employees were paid more than $1 million each") currently donate less than 4% of their income?

Of course, the answer to this question doesn't necessarily change whether the program would achieve Goldman's aims. Theoretically, if this initiative could indeed influence public perception about the bonuses, it matters less whether employees' donations are increasing and more whether the company has a strong story to tell about how generous its employees are with their large paychecks. In that case, the company could get as much value simply by gathering information about its employees' existing donations and their impact and sharing that information. I'm not sure it's relevant for the company to set a mandatory giving hurdle when the hurdle is relatively easy to reach.

On the other hand, perhaps the Goldman Sachs program, if it indeed becomes reality, will be nothing like the Bear Stearns program. Perhaps it will require that employees (or at least the highest-earning employees) donate a significantly higher figure, a percentage that would seem far above what the average person would expect even from a million-dollar earner - for the sake of argument, let's say something like 25%. Would that change perceptions of the program? Would that make the general public - if that's in fact the stakeholder Goldman would be trying to influence - change its attitudes toward the company, such that this solution (employee giving program) actually impacts the problem (public anger at big bonuses) it seems designed to solve? I'm not sure - but it would definitely break through the clutter of expected actions.

Of course, maybe the lackluster reactions to the idea - as evidenced, for instance, by the comments to the NYTimes story (admittedly not a representative sample, but the comments are really negative) - will convince Goldman Sachs decision-makers that this proposed solution won't, in fact, address the problem in question. Regardless, I look forward to the next installment of this story, which continues to help us think more deeply about causal relationships in the world of corporate philanthropy.