Greater Good Blog

Put Corporate Philanthropy to Work

Whitney Mayer

Strategic corporate philanthropy is a diverse tool and form of innovative risk capital that can be used to advance business objectives and achieve greater good. Foundations, philanthropy advisors, and internal corporate champions should use their resources, knowledge, and influence to encourage companies to pursue strategic corporate philanthropy and help shape the way these initiatives complement and advance business objectives while making lasting impact on the world at large.

This past year, I had an opportunity to work with a private company that is committed to helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). While the company’s core business activities position it well to have a tremendous impact independently, it also looks to the entire philanthropic sector as a network for collaboration, which I believe could become an important element of advancing both its business objectives and its impact on the MDGs. By engaging with both individual and institutional philanthropists, companies of all sorts can gain crucial issue expertise, tap into new resources, and expand their networks.

Companies like Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, Inc. (GMCR) and Levi Strauss & Co. are also demonstrating that corporate philanthropy can go beyond traditional models. Both companies are making strategic investments in their supply-chain communities that help improve livelihoods while simultaneously strengthening and diversifying their product sourcing opportunities. More specifically, Levi Strauss invests in workers’ rights, asset building, and addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic—all issues that impact livelihoods and productivity in the factories where its products are made. GMCR’s supply-chain grants focus on coffee-growing communities as well as communities that manufacture parts for its brewers or provide other ingredients for its products. Grants include human development and economic development projects, and concentrate on strengthening communities overall as well areas such as financing, agronomy, and energy waste and reduction. For both these companies, grant-based investments are complementary to the companies’ overall strategies and serve as a form of risk capital to explore new techniques or supplier relationships.

Finally, a number of companies are also choosing to invest in and partner with advocacy organizations that work on issues as diverse as human trafficking, climate change, water, and energy. For example, in 2011 Intel partnered with Resolve, an advocacy organization, to host a Responsible Gold Sourcing Summit with a variety of companies involved in sourcing minerals. The summit led to a number of steps including, a fund that reimburses smelters who participate in transparency audits. Resolve is now managing this fund in partnership with Intel and the GE and HP Company foundations. By partnering with grantees who are at the front end of human rights and environmental issues, these companies are better managing their risk and reputation while also supporting organizations with a real capacity to have an impact on lives and livelihoods.

While firms Arabella works with and companies like Intel, Levi Strauss, and GMCR are already philanthropically- and sustainability-minded, their willingness to push the boundaries on corporate philanthropic practices are impacting their bottom line as well as achieving social impact. What innovative corporate philanthropy initiatives are you seeing in your work?


Whitney Mayer is a director at Arabella, where she provides guidance on strategy, evaluation, and implementation projects.

Back to Blog