The word philanthropy originated in ancient Greece from the playwright Aeschylus in his drama Prometheus Bound. The play revolves around the idea of meager, primitive creatures that were created to be human but since lacked basic knowledge, skills, and any culture. Prometheus was a man that provided the creatures with the gifts of fire and optimism in order to create enlightened beings, improve the human condition and aid in their progress toward a civilized society.
After hearing that, it comes at no surprise that the word philanthropy etymologically translates as “love of man”. As time progressed a much narrower, corporate definition has been attached to philanthropy. Modern philanthropy generally refers to the business and political worlds – and in a broad sense basically translates to:
- Private initiatives for private good (focusing on material prosperity) in the business world
- Public initiatives for public good (focusing on law and order) in the political world.
While philanthropy is associated with instances of charity, not all philanthropy is charity, and visa versa.
With that lesson out of the way, let’s focus on the benefits and concerns surrounding corporate philanthropy.
According to Business Week, corporate philanthropy is as critical as ever to business and society but is constantly in question and under scrutiny to demonstrate cost-effectiveness and alignment with corporate needs. Capturing and measuring philanthropical quantitative data is extremely difficult and usually is relayed in less formal, anecdotal methods. The business and social benefits are often intangible, long-term, and an efficient measurement of these results can be extremely complex. Simply put, social change takes time.
Don’t let lack of a shared definition or method of social impact measurement sway you and your company away from any philanthropic goals. Philanthropic initiatives provide charitable outlets by which businesses can create long-term financial value by increasing customer loyalty, reputation capital, employee engagement, and market opportunities. Overarching measurement frameworks are currently being researched both for the benefit of business and nonprofits – for the time being here are a few measurement assistance tools to help.
Some recent corporate philanthropy award winners from the 12th annual Excellence Awards:
- Kraft Foods: Fighting hunger in the US for more than 30 years. Their most recent effort that spanned a few years raised $180 million in cash and food to fight hunger.
- Xylem Watermark: Xylem Inc., a spinoff of the ITT Corporation, is a international leader in water technology, providing more than 150 countries with tools to transport, treat, test, and economically use water in public utility, residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial settings.
- Good 360: Good360 has been a nonprofit leader in product philanthropy since the early 1980s and is dedicated to meeting the needs of a vast nonprofit network (30,000). Their recent partnership with The Home Depot to form the Framing Home project donates products to surrounding communities of each Home Depot rather than spending money to ship products to non-profit donation centers.