When Rick Cohen of the Nonprofit Quarterly made some thoughtful comments to a post about the Wal-Mart Foundation, it spurred the Nonprofiteer to examine some of his earlier writing on the relationship between business interests and business philanthropy. Two insights stand out: the first about the content of corporate philanthropy and the second about the difficulty of determining exactly what goes on in that shadowy world.
Cohen’s May e-newsletter makes both points. An article about changes in the philanthropic approach of Federal mortgage backer Fannie Mae highlights a general movement toward eradicating the "firewall" traditionally erected between the work of a corporation’s foundation and its direct corporate commercial interests. Sometimes, as with Fannie Mae, the demolition comes in the form of out-and-out elimination of the in-house foundation; sometimes it merely expresses itself in an increased alignment of grantmaking with business interests. (The Nonprofiteer remembers noticing with dull surprise that the Allstate Foundation spends a lot of money on fire prevention and other safety matters, which presumably reduce the Allstate Company‘s exposure to loss. Now if only Allstate–Foundation or Company–could figure out something they could fund to prevent hurricane damage.)
But even more useful than Cohen’s anatomizing of this particular event is the opening graf of that issue of the newsletter, under the headline "Shenanigans of Corporate Philanthropy":
It still takes the equivalent of Sam Spade to track corporate philanthropy, since so much of it occurs as "direct" corporate giving rather than publicly disclosed grantmaking.
which reminds us that sometimes process is as important as substance.
PS: Like Cohen, Albert Ruesga at White Courtesy Telephone regularly offers original ideas about institutional donors: check out his recent posting about funders’ conceptions and misconceptions of themselves.