What Can Individual Donors Learn From Corporate Philanthropy?
Feb. 25, 2009, The Wall Street Journal — What can individual donors learn from the philanthropic practices of big corporations? We talked with three corporate leaders at an annual gathering of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) to find out how big companies make charitable gifts and what their practices can teach individual givers. We also quizzed them about corporate social responsibility — the buzz-term for putting a good charitable or socially-aware face on your company — and whether it helps attract new, younger employees.
The Wallet discussed corporate-giving trends with Christina Gold, chief executive of the Western Union Co.; Steve Case, the America Online co-founder who now chairs his own foundation; and Sidney Taurel, chairman emeritus of Eli Lilly & Co.
Case has focused his charitable efforts on expanding access to technology and cutting-edge cancer research, among other things. When deciding who gets his money, “passion is important,” Case says. Case’s brother, for instance, died of brain cancer, spurring the former AOL executive’s devotion of more than $5.2 million since 2001 toward finding cures for the disease. Case also suggests philanthropists tighten their focus as they mull causes to support and consider pooling resources with others to maximize impact.
In an age of complex conflicts-of-interest and various scandals, studying charities before committing donor dollars is a top priority, says Gold, the Western Union CEO. “We do a lot of vetting,” she says. Western Union’s Foundation gives money to nonprofits in Mexico to spur job-creation and also gives money to disaster-relief efforts worldwide. The company’s corporate compliance staff examines nonprofits using similar criteria applied on the business side for deals and other partnerships. Gold says nonprofits her company partners with must be “perfect” — that is, free of major inefficiencies or other questionable practices.
You, Wallet reader, may not have your own corporate compliance staff but there are resources on the Web that can help you vet charities. Among them are Charity Navigator, which shows you how much charities spend on programs versus administrative costs. Guidestar is a one-stop shop for tax forms that offer plenty on information on charities, though at a cost in many cases.