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CEOs Encourage Corporate Philanthropy in Trying Times

By Elisabeth Anderson on February 26, 2009No Comment

An annual event, ICPD exists to build awareness of corporate-community partnerships and inspire businesses around the world to engage further in philanthropy.  The focal point this year came in the fourth annual Board of Boards CEO Conference, hosted by The McGraw-Hill Companies.  The sixty leading CEOs and chairpersons in attendance participated in a session titled “Global Leaders: Confronting a Crucial Decision,” featuring Jeffrey Immelt of GE and Carlos Ghosn of Nissan, and moderated by Tom Brokaw.

onPhilanthropy spoke with CECP Executive Director Charles Moore and participant and CECP member Frederic de Narp, President & CEO of Cartier North America, to learn more about the critical role corporate philanthropy can and should play in this period of great economic challenge.
An important day…
Asked what motivated him to participate in ICPD, Mr. de Narp explained that “It was very important for Cartier to participate in International Corporate Philanthropy Day because Cartier has held true to the belief that giving back to our communities and supporting charitable programs is an integral part of our philosophy.  There has never been such an unstable moment.  Therefore now, more than ever, it is up to corporations to step up.  Executive leadership is essential, and it is important to have philanthropy aligned with strategy.”

Mr. Moore contextualized the relevance of the day for all CEOs.  “We see this day as an opportunity to highlight the strategic philanthropic efforts of their companies, and to encourage them to communicate.”  He stressed that the day is no excuse to neglect corporate philanthropy the rest of the year, but rather one day to “set aside…to make something special” that can inspire CEOs throughout the year.  He had a captive audience; according to a poll of the CEOs in the room, 92% reported considerable or moderate personal involvement in their company’s philanthropy (CECP will release an executive summary of the findings of the closed-door program, including the results of the day’s opinion polls, in early March).

…with an important conversation
Mr. de Narp was inspired by the quality and energy of the dialogue.  “At the Board of Boards luncheon, it was amazing to be surrounded by such a renowned group of speakers and CEOs,” he said.  “It was a tremendously inspiring environment, with many ideas exchanged.”  He captured a number of key takeaways, including the fact that “the way to deal with the current environment is to work together, in order to make the world a better place.  I left with a true message of hope; there is a genuine concern about the planet and for people in need.  CECP is an incredible platform that encourages the importance of giving, especially during these times.”

Power of the people
“Corporations only give 5%” of total philanthropy in the United States, said Mr. Moore.  “Another 10% is foundations, but the rest is individual [and bequests].”  While a small piece of the giving pie, the reason it’s important, he explained, is that companies “…have people.  That’s the distinction.  To the CEO, your most important constituency is your employees.  There’s an enormous benefit to employees when [the employer] is a good corporate citizen.”

Cartier embodies this mindset.  When asked generally about the company’s philanthropic plans for 2009, Mr. de Narp was quick to mention his employees — not only the benefit of philanthropy to them, but also of them to it.  He referenced the strength and significance of Cartier’s employee volunteer programs, and noted that “We also offer the power of our people, in the coaching that Cartier offers from its employees to women entrepreneurs as part of the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards.” 

Leveraging other non-cash assets
Cash is still king in the realm of corporate giving — Cartier, for example, still plans to continue working with the nonprofits with whom it has strong ties, and plans to honor a soon-to-be announced charity in conjunction with its Centennial Celebration of 100 years in the United States this April.  As important as cash contributions are, however, people like Mr. de Narp realize the added value of in-kind giving.  In the case of Cartier, the company can leverage its stores.  “We will look toward other resources that will help philanthropically, such as opening our Fifth Avenue boutique for events such as the event to honor the Global Network [for Neglected Tropical Diseases] the other night.” 

Cartier is indeed not alone.  According to Mr. Moore, the “vast majority” of participating CEOs answered “very important or important” when asked how important the economy is in determining their companies’ cash contributions.  As such, he noted the present opportunity for corporations to “reassess needs in their communities, reprioritize their programs, and reallocate their resources.”  Indeed, “when we asked the CEOs what the most important thing they can do [philanthropically] in tough times is,” he explained, “the strongest vote was for ‘refocus my contributions to causes central to my business strategy.’”

Moving forward
Looking out at the corporate philanthropic landscape for 2009, Mr. Moore is confident that “corporate giving will not go off the cliff,” and he noted that giving levels and profit don’t always share a positive correlation. “Still,” he said, “ it could slip 3-4%, and recovery will be slow.”

His best advice for philanthropy-minded CEOs to weather the storm?  “Recognize the expanded needs and find ways within your corporate resources to step up and meet those needs.  This is a defining moment for corporate leadership.  There are great opportunities to invest in their communities — and there’s a competitive context for philanthropy as well.”  In sum, “Philanthropy is investing in the future — and that’s the way CEOs need to look at it.  It’s an investment in their customers, their employees, their communities.”

For more information
Cartier North America: http://www.cartier.com/

Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy: http://www.corporatephilanthropy.org/

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