Corporate Philanthropy: Should it be an Obligation or a Requirement?


Guest post by Tara Greco

Hello again Armchair Advocate readers. I’m been on a short hiatus for the last few months while I started a grad school program at Georgetown. The many school writing assignments left little time to post to the blog, so I’m catching up over the semester break.

Back in September, I had the good fortune to secure a seat in Gaston Hall to hear Warren Buffet speak to the Georgetown Social Enterprise Initiative students. He was amazing (of course) and spoke about investing and philanthropy–he takes both seriously.

Buffet had many wise comments, but this one is especially fascinating:

“The obligation of a society as prosperous and wealthy as ours is to not leave people too far behind. Nobody does it alone–we all sit in the shade of trees planted by others and it’s obligatory that we plant some trees of our own.”

It was refreshing to hear this from the man who many refer to the “oracle” or “sage” of investing. He also backs it up through his own philanthropy.

Contrast this statement with some news from India, released a few weeks before Buffet’s speech.

In August, the government of India passed a corporate responsibility law, which requires companies that make a profit of more than $80 million over three years to contribute 2 percent of profits to responsibility efforts. The contributions can be allocated to philanthropy or environmental sustainability. It’s essentially a tax to force behavior change.

Like many of you in the Armchair Advocate network, I would like to see more companies consider the impact on all of their stakeholders when making business decisions–and not just focus on shareholder return. And I’d like to believe that business leaders, when left to their own judgment and devices, would act responsibly. But, as my favorite Washington Post business columnist Steve Pearlstein noted in September, it just isn’t happening.

So–what’s the best way to inspire corporate behavior change? Peer pressure from other titans (e.g. Gates, Buffet, Elon Musk) to live up to our obligations? Or a mandate?

I’m guessing the answer lies somewhere in between these two options. It will be interesting to observe the reaction in India over the next few years. If the requirement works, it could open the door to similar legislation in other countries. In the meantime, I plan to follow Warren Buffet’s advice and continue to help plant more trees.

Tara Greco (@teegrec) is a seasoned CSR professional with experience on both sides of the equation, having worked in corporate community relations and nonprofit communications & marketing. She focuses on trends and innovations in community engagement, strategic philanthropy, volunteerism, cause marketing, and CR/nonprofit communications.

One Comment on “Corporate Philanthropy: Should it be an Obligation or a Requirement?”

  1. Linda L Christianson
    January 9, 2014 at 3:34 pm #

    I agree with the plan to give to those less fortunate. I thought your post was excellent. I hope you enjoyed your break and are refreshed for the new year. I also will occasionally write a blog. I try to follow the inspiration that I put in my memoir “All the steps I have taken” published August 2012. It is also difficult for me to get them done timely as being a grandma with lots of volunteer enjoyments doesn’t allow me to be at this computer. I am also very slow at the process but do get it accomplished. Old mind and body take longer to learn.

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