Is it truly better to give than to receive? Is it possible to be generous without having an ulterior motive? When you help your friends and family, is there not a latent expectation that the help be reciprocated when and if its reciprocation is necessary? Even when we give to strangers, our acts of charity are often accompanied by a corresponding belief in karmic reciprocity. So, if ulterior motivation is taken as a given, or at the very least as a dominant trait in association to philanthropy, does its presence diminish the act of giving? It is in light of this paradox that we examine the topic of strategic philanthropy.
As defined by the website Do Well, Do Good, strategic philanthropy is “the practice of companies by which they target their respective charitable and philanthropic activities around a specific issue or cause that will in turn support their own business objectives.” If a computer software company is trying to expand into the developing world, it might behoove it to invest some capital into educational programs that highlight their products and the skills necessary to fully utilize them. If an automotive company is having trouble finding a labor force with the skills necessary to run its factories, donating money to vocational training schools could be a great way to supplement that shortfall.
This kind of philanthropy produces two benefits for the companies that employ it. First, it allows them to meet a definite need of their business. Second, it places their company in a favorable position both within the community that it is directly benefiting and in respect to the general public. By offering scholarships to medical students, pharmaceutical companies can ensure that their products will benefit from having another medical professional who is predisposed to prescribing them. Yet, here is where the inevitable conflict of interests arises.
Is it disingenuous for a pharmaceutical company to recruit clients through scholarship offers? Is it ethical for a company that deals in petroleum to foster good faith through philanthropy in a country where its extraction methods might prove environmentally detrimental? Although it is easy to see where a conflation of costs and benefits might cast a shadow over strategic philanthropy programs, those conflicts should not serve as a condemnation of the practice as a whole.
Part of repairing the image of large corporations with a public harboring deep-seated suspicions of their general maleficence involves the incorporation of public prerogatives within corporate goals. Though individuals and even entire communities might object to one corporation or another based upon the products they sell or the procedures they employ, everyone should be able to acknowledge the benefit of creating a greater connection between the profits of a company and the profits of the community that company serves.
By building these kinds of relationships, corporations might be less inclined to harm those communities in which they themselves are invested. A company that deals in natural gas will have a greater incentive to minimize the environmental damages caused by their refineries if they themselves have invested in the surrounding communities. The more corporations become conscious of the impact their presence has on the communities in which they operate, for better and for worse, the more they can develop the conscience necessary to validate the personhood conferred upon them by Supreme Court cases such as Citizens United v. Federal Election Committee.
– Shaun Franco