Corporate Philanthropy – It’s About the Ground Game

by Steve Infante


I have worked in corporate America most of my adult life.  Corporate structure, organizational management, policies and procedures are ingrained in me and are part of my day to day life.  No matter where I’ve worked in my career, pretty much all corporations subscribe to the same culture and approach.  Giving is historically part of that approach.  I would usually sign up to have a dollar figure taken out of my check each month and donate to some charity, and I would feel good about myself doing so.  Yet, in retrospect, it was not fulfilling, and I now wonder how much I was actually helping. 

According to Charity Navigator, corporate donations only make up 5% of all charitable donations.  This was shockingly low.  So not only is corporate giving a very small percentage of total giving, it is a very impersonal and sterile way to give back.   Don’t get me wrong, GIVE YOUR MONEY, but I have learned that as good human beings, we need to do more.  Corporations need to do more.  They need to up their financial game and give more money but that’s not all.  Corporations need to do a better job of being on the ground, in the trenches, helping.   

Some companies I’ve worked for have sponsored events that I have participated in like packing food at the local Food Depository and sponsoring a group who would run a marathon.  That’s a move in the right direction but they are events.  Not a sustainable on-going commitment and engagement to help.  There are a lot of challenges with what I am suggesting.  What charities to choose?  How much time to commit?  How to organize such an endeavor?  All legitimate concerns.  My answer to those questions, get started helping and figure it out.   

Corporate America needs to do a better job of operationalizing the giving back concept.  Many companies offer employees: 

  • Time off specific to volunteering 
  • Financial matching for donations 
  • Foundations set up within a corporation dedicated to philanthropy

These are all great steps in the right direction.  Since being a part of the Art of Giving Foundation, I have looked at giving through a new lens.  I am looking at corporate America’s giving back approach through a new lens as well.  Here are a few ideas. 

 Adopted Charities

Depending on the size of the corporation, a corporation should choose to “adopt” 1-10 different charities to support.  This support should be financial in nature, but there should also be an “on the ground” program where sustainable programs are developed and supported in communities.  An example would be for a manufacturing company to have a program to hire less fortunate people to develop and build a product (that aligns with the company’s core business) where all proceeds from the sale of that particular product goes back to the development of the program to help the workers get back on their feet. 

Incentivize Employees

Instead of giving employees “time off to give back” create an internal program that incentivizes employees to go out and get their hands dirty.  Create individual MBO (management by objectives) that have employee bonuses, or raises directly impacted by the amount of on the ground philanthropy that employee does. 

Chief Giving Officer

If a corporation creates a C-Level role whose entire role is to help drive “giving back” and this person has a staff of people dedicated to that cause, it will accomplish two things.  First, it will show employees, the community and even Wall Street that the company is taking its role as a responsible philanthropic entity seriously.  And second, it will give a company an acute focus on giving.  Leadership and support staff whose roles are to drive these initiatives.  

Giving back is part of being human.  It is incumbent on the humans to help drive behavior of corporations to evolve its behavior. It’s time to get out on the streets and put the focus on looking into the eyes of the very people they are helping.  Creating sustainable on-going programs like I mention above that help people in ways that are in addition to just money.