Corporate Philanthropy as a Profession

Thursday, November 17, 2011 - 12:00 pm
Robert Smith

Major societal challenges-poverty, hunger, inconsistent access to high-quality education and health care-adversely affect hundreds of millions of people on our planet. The business community can play a vital role in addressing these complex problems. To make a meaningful contribution, businesses must evolve the way they think about the concept of corporate responsibility (CR).  

Modern CR is headed in a new direction. Leading companies are moving away from disconnected and tactical efforts that rely largely upon passive charitable donations. Instead, they focus on how to apply their business models and expertise to improve specific problems.

This shift is having a dramatic impact on CR departments in leading companies around the world. People responsible for CR are building new teams with deeper capabilities to reflect this exciting dynamic. Corporate philanthropy as a profession is transforming. Fewer people will review grant applications and progress reports, and more people will engage in strategic problem solving.

In short, the notion of corporate philanthropy as a detached charitable effort will wane, though such a traditional approach will always have a place. But professional dynamism and growth will occur mainly in corporations that apply business-oriented solutions to difficult social issues.

If we seek to realize the promise inherent in this endeavor, we need professionals who can explore societal challenges and then have the business knowledge, contacts, and credibility to leverage a corporation’s assets in ways that create shared value. To do this well, companies need their best people working in this area. The Corporate Philanthropy Department used to be a place where an organization could get by with marginal talent, but those days are now over. Business and society, which are interdependent and mutually reinforcing, will be the beneficiary of this shift.

How do you view the notion of “philanthropy as a profession”?

What competencies do you seek in a corporate philanthropy practitioner?

Robert Smith is senior director, Corporate Responsibility at Eli Lilly and Company and president of the Eli Lilly Foundation, a member of the Council on Foundations.

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Corporate Philanthropy