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Bill Shore
Non-profit leader

Bill Shore

Bill Shore is founder and executive director of Share Our Strength, the nation’s leading organization working to end childhood hunger in America.

The best of corporate philanthropy

Corporate philanthropy can be extremely relevant when it is strategic. While it is fine for corporate philanthropy to align with short-term marketing objectives, which makes such philanthropy more likely to be sustainable over time, it is most strategic when it meets the long-term needs of its philanthropic partners. Best is when it helps to build capacity so that effective organizations can grow to scale and have a management core that is as strong as its programming. As is the case with most leadership challenges, marshaling support in corporate philanthropy for investments that may not pay off until the long-term is the toughest task of all, but also promises the greatest return on investment.

As a director on the board of Timberland I've seen what corporate philanthropy can accomplish in building the capacity of high-performing organizations like City Year, and also in leading on issues like climate change and reducing the carbon footprint. And as the founder of a nonprofit anti-hunger organization, Share Our Strength, I've seen what partners as diverse as American Express, ConAgra Foods, C&S Wholesale Grocers and many others can accomplish when they are willing to go beyond the desire for short-term publicity and engage in the hard work of understanding a partner's needs, as well as clearly identifying their own, so that a mutually beneficial relationship can be attained.

By Bill Shore

 |  November 19, 2009; 10:52 AM ET
Category:  Corporate leadership Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Corporate philanthropy is highly questionable in principle, if not outright wrong.

The job of a company is to make the maximum possible profit for those who have come together, pooled their money, and put it at risk in hopes of a profitable return. They elect a board of directors which in turn hires management that is tasked with running the company to make that profit, and is legally bound to do so, with a fiduciary duty. People trust their future well-being to the hands of management and expect it to act in their interests.

So when management takes this money and spends it not on ways to make more money, but on charitable projects, that is directly contravening the purpose for which they were entrusted with that money.

If the investors wanted to give that money to charity, they would have done so. That money was NOT for charity, it was to seek a profit to help improve the lives of those investors, to help them realize their dreams, to retire or help their children or yes give to charity.

Management operates within an elite social circle of competitive altruism. Many love to soak up the adulation, the flashbulbs, and to be congratulated for their compassion as they hand over the oversize check.

But that check, that money, is NOT their money. They are giving away other people's money, investors' money, and soaking up the credit for themselves.

The same could be said from a consumer or customer perspective. Rather than spending customer money on improving product quality or lowering prices, management spends it on charitable projects.

The same could be said from employees' perspective. That money could have improved salaries or benefits or hired more workers.

In short, let investors, customers, and employees have the most money they can, and let them decide what charity they want to give to.

A darker side of this is of course disguised extortion. "Charities", especially ideological or ethnic lobbies, will demand funds and threaten an ugly public fuss unless they are paid off. It is absurd that the most bitterly anti-corporate elements of our society are being generously funded by corporations themselves. This protection racket has to end, investigated thoroughly and broken like the Mob. It's time to end the fear and silence.

Posted by: LStarr3 | November 19, 2009 4:35 PM
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