My New Year’s resolution for 2010 was to join the 21st century and dive into the social media waters. This blog post is my first—and hopefully the first of several—to offer a perspective of philanthropy from where I sit at the Council on Foundations: working closely with the business community. I didn’t realize in December just how quickly I would have to act on my New Year resolution.
In the immediate days after the Haiti earthquake hit, I tracked in awe the incredible response from corporate philanthropy to the tragic events—much of which I learned in real-time via Twitter. According to the Business Civic Leadership Center (BCLC), in the first 24 hours of the disaster, approximately $8 million was pledged in donations for immediate and long-term relief. By the second day, Thursday, that total grew to $31 million, increasing to $61.5 million by week’s end.
Most of these commitments included matching employee contributions one-to-one to double the collective impact. And many companies are waiting until the on-ground situation improves to mobilize their products and equipment to help in recovery. On Twitter, an employee at one of these companies noted how proud he was of his company’s donation. Indeed, amidst these long days of sadness and mourning, I hold a glimmer of humble honor that I get to know these companies and professionals that are doing so much.
During acute disasters, philanthropy, governments and the public expect companies to show up with support, which they have in a big way. Since the September 11 attacks, companies have immediately stepped in to aid those (employees and others) affected by the South Asian tsunami and Pakistan earthquake, hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Sichuan earthquake in China and countless other lesser-known tragedies. But behind the headlines of the dollar amounts that corporations give during disasters lies a deeper story about the value businesses bring to our communities at all times.
Through their foundations, companies are helping move the needle on global issues across society: education, girls and women, health, food security, the arts and literacy—to name a few. In addition, corporations bring unique assets beyond dollars, such as management practices, discipline in measurement, ethic of inclusiveness and commitment to developing a pipeline of talent. Because companies operate in a competitive market, they have a forward-leaning orientation where innovation and constant improvement drive success. All of this has a way to benefit and inform both philanthropy and nonprofits. Yes, companies come at social problems from a different perspective, but that can be valuable to help shift the prism to find solutions. In the end, the goal is the same, but the approach just uses different tools.
So, when we get past the next few days, weeks and months, and the primary focus inevitably shifts back to where philanthropy was before the tragedy in Haiti, I hope the philanthropic sector will remember to turn to corporate philanthropy as a partner—not just in times of disaster. The Council’s Annual Conference in Denver this April is one such place where our sometimes disparate pods in philanthropy will intersect. Let’s take advantage of that time to have meaningful conversations that promote greater intra-sector coordination. That way, collectively, we can be a more effective field and force and I can keep my New Year’s resolution.
Elizabeth Sullivan is the director of Corporate Services at the Council on Foundations. Learn more about the Haiti disaster response by visiting the Council’s disaster relief Web site and by following us on Twitter.