July 7, 2010; Source: Forbes.com | The author of this blog posting is the founder and president of a firm called Do Well Do Good LLC, which partners with companies that want to “increase the positive impact of their social responsibility initiatives.” As the former director of Office Max’s Community Affairs Department, he is described by Forbes as “a Chicago-based expert on corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, and cause-marketing,” which enabled him to write about the “democratization of corporate philanthropy.”
Democratization, in this article, is the corporate philanthropic fad of philanthropic contests such as Pepsi Refresh, Kohl’s Cares, and the Members Project. The author says that these contests in which people vote for charitable giving priorities place “the general public . . . in charge of dictating a company’s giving . . . by using social media.” He then defends the secrecy rampant in corporate philanthropy as “absolutely necessary because of the sheer number of requests corporate giving officers receive.” (He says that corporations don’t have to disclose details of their corporate philanthropy, which is true for giving that doesn’t occur through corporate foundations, which like other foundations have to file 990PFs and disclose the recipients of their philanthropic giving.)
So let’s get this straight. Giving “the public” the ability to vote for the charitable distribution of a small amount of corporate largesse is democratization and so is keeping the philanthropic grantmaking of major corporations secret. Every grantmaker makes the argument for secrecy. Remember, private foundations argued against making their 990PFs open to public disclosure too.
The argument that corporate grantmakers can’t fend off applicants unless they keep their grantmaking secret is as bogus in the corporate world as it was among foundations until they were compelled to disclose. Corporate marketing programs such as Pepsi Refresh (described by the author as a “giant” program of $20 million), even with their use of social marketing tools, don’t do much to introduce democracy into the highly undemocratic world of corporate philanthropy.—Rick Cohen