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: