Google and Corporate Philanthropy

Google announced today that Google.org will be launching soon, following through on their promise to launch and philanthropic arm of the company. Clearly, this is good news and the Google Foundation will help (and already has helped) millions of people. But I have a few concerns:

  • Timing – Where was this a few years ago? It’s important for integrated corporate philanthropy to be woven into a company’s mission from the start. The status quo cannot be "once we have our IPO and make billions, we’ll start donating to charity."
  • Focus – So far they are giving a few million here and a few million there. From the Make a Wish Foundation to Doctors Without Borders. A total of 850 different nonprofit organizations have already received grants. Will they be able to monitor the social impact across all these different areas? Will there be a guiding social mission of the Foundation? In many ways this mirrors the for-profit business….
  • Staffing – They’ve already given away millions of dollars, but they say "We are working on staffing as well as defining the goals, priorities, and principles of Google.org." Wait – don’t you do that BEFORE giving away the money? Who’s overseeing the follow-through of the grants?

Again, this is fundamentally a *great* thing, but I also think we want to hold non-profits to a higher standard than simple applause for doing good. Particularly when it’s a philanthropic arm of a for-profit corporation, there is no excuse to not run a tight, results-oriented organization. This means getting the right people on the bus before driving it and making sure each dollar is accounted for.

Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business

Link: Reason: Rethinking the Social Responsibility of Business: A Reason debate featuring Milton Friedman, Whole Foods’ John Mackey, and Cypress Semiconductor’s T.J. Rodgers.

This is a thought provoking back and forth between the Whole Foods CEO, Milton Friedman, and the Cypress Semiconductor CEO. It’s long so print it out if you’re interested in corporate philanthropy; is maximizing profits the means or the end itself?

Comcate Donates Software to Affected Public Agencies

I’ve talked some in the past about corporate philanthropy. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I’ve seen many companies donate money, portions of revenue, or resources to the victims. At my company Comcate, we are in a unique situation since local governments are our clients and over the past few years we’ve trained thousands of employees on effective customer service and case management.

As announced on the Comcate blog, we are donating our CRM software to agencies in the Gulf Coast directly or indirectly affected by the Hurricane. For agencies in that area that have computers, they will reap significant benefits from our case management, code enforcement, GIS, and wireless functionalities. We are encouraging affected agencies to contact us to receive either eFeedbackManager or Code Enforcement Manager free for 12 months including off-site hosting, training, and support. We hope to do our part in responding to this disaster and I tip my hat to all companies contributing as they can to the relief effort.

The Social Responsibilities of Corporations

In previous posts I have professed my support for integrated corporate philanthropy and the model of devoting 1% of employee time, profits, and pre-IPO equity to a charitable cause. I believed at the time – and still do – that corporations can do good by doing well and that there are a number of unquantifiable morale benefits in the workplace when employees feel like they are part of a bigger cause above and beyond profits. That being said, I admit to drifting right in my support for free markets and minimal government interference. (In general, I find some liking in some neoconservative tenets.) So, I found Richard Posner’s recent posts (part one, part two) on the social responsibilities of corporations provocative to say the least. As you can imagine, Posner, given his propensity to link everything to markets and economics, thinks corporations provide maximum social benefits by maximizing return to shareholders. There is a lot to be said for this viewpoint. Both he and Becker venture into other areas of corporate law and economics on which I do not have sufficient understanding to comment intelligently. I will, though, excerpt this quote from Posner where he veers off course:

One comment that I am quite sympathetic to is that the social return to profit-maximizing activities may actually be higher than the social return to corporate philanthropy, when “corporate philanthropy” isn’t just a fancy name for public relations. As I argued in an earlier post, philanthropy directed at poor countries may actually reduce the welfare of those countries, and the same is probably true to an extent of purely domestic charity. The general effect of charity is to postpone the making of difficult decisions. For example, philanthropic gifts, private or public, to the arts retard serious efforts by artists and artistic organizations to create work for which there is a genuine interest on the part of the public, and philanthropic gifts to universities help to shield them from competitive pressures.

A commenter has smartly replied: “Who decided that popularity was the purpose and overarching goal of art? Did I miss a meeting? The primary rationale for supporting arts with philanthropy is the desire to encourage art that is potentially unpopular but hopefully mind-expanding.”

Government Aid (Africa) and Individual Philanthropy to Non-Critical Causes

There’s been a lot in the news about the G-8 Summit and increased aid to Africa. I will use this as an excuse to talk about 1) Governmental aid to poor countries like those in Africa, 2) Individual philanthropy to non-critical causes.

I am not of the belief that blindly doubling or tripling aid to Africa is a smart thing to do. Although I haven’t yet read Jeffrey Sach’s new book The End of Poverty I am generally skeptical of the argument that if we only gave a billion more dollars to Africa all their problems would be solved. Instead, I believe greed, corruption, and poor governance cannot be overcome by a bigger check. Smart fellows like Clive Crook in the National Journal articulate why smart aid is so much more important than more aid. I applaud the Open Society Initiative’s work on governance in Africa and elsewhere. Indeed, as Crook points out, everyone agrees that aid should go to states that are well-governed. The problem is nearly all African countries are not, and this is not a problem that more money can solve.

Now that we’ve all been exposed to the travesties in Africa and other poor countries, it made me reflect on individual philanthropy. I believe that EVERYONE should be a philanthropist in one way or another – get active in causes you believe in. Most people I know – including me! – are active in causes that are in some way local or relevant to us. That is, it makes us feel better when we support a local school because we can see (and reap?) the fruits of our efforts. I am involved in efforts to teach entrepreneurship education to youth. All of this is fantastic. But compared to millions of children dying of hunger or thousands of women raped due to corrupt police…….It is so easy to give and be active in causes that touch you. It is so much harder – and admirable? – to be active in causes that do not.

If the I.R.S. Gets Less, Does Charity Get More?

A telling article in today’s NYT about the impact of tax breaks and charitable giving. After President Bush’s tax cuts, the highest earners – those with incomes > $200k – gave less to charity than before. Low-income donors “managed to part with a whopping 26 percent of their incomes, while high earners gave 3.4 percent.” This may mean trouble for President Bush’s tax cuts for the highest earners; after all, “maybe they’re not as compassionate as he’d hoped.”

Link: If the I.R.S. Gets Less, Does Charity Get More? – New York Times.

Salesforce.com Sponsored Event for High School Students

In my involvement with the BizWorld Foundation California Advisory Board, I met today with the Suzanne DiBianca, the executive director of the Salesforce.com Foundation at the Salesforce.com offices. My friend Marc Benioff is the CEO of Salesforce and has made the Foundation integral in the company – I’m a big fan of his vision of integrated philanthropy in businesses.

Along with the director of BizWorld, a Salesforce employee, a couple Salesforce interns, and a fellow board member, we kicked off the planning for the summer BizWorld S-Academy – a multi-day event for high school students in the Bay Area to learn about business and sales & marketing with the salesforce.com application as the tool of choice.

We are looking for two high school age girls in the San Francisco area to be on a youth advisory board for this event. Please email me if you know some girls who could be interested in this community service project.

Core Values

After giving some thought to the issue, I have realized that the four core values of the Ben Casnocha of today (I’m sure they’ll change as I get older) are:

1. Excellence – For things and people I care about, I will give nothing less than 100% effort. I want to strive for excellence in every aspect of my life and hold a higher standard than most of my peers. I will never get on the treadmill of mediocrity.

2. Health – I will feed my body, feed my mind, and feed by soul. Staying in good health (physically and otherwise) is a commitment I will uphold. If I feel like my physical or mental health is ever being compromised, I will seek help. Happiness is founded on good health.

3. Humor – This is a weird one. Most people wouldn’t think of “humor” as a core value. But it is for me. In our finite amount of time on this planet, the chemicals released during a laugh are among the most pleasurable. Committing myself to finding humor in the mundane and infusing humor into my work and life is a priority.

4. Knowledge – I believe the hero’s journey is premised on the spirited pursuit of knowledge. I want to acquire knowledge – not through filling my head with facts – but through passionate interactions with people and the reading of books. A close corollary to this is the constant asking of questions (think Socrates).

Lofty values like “integrity,” “generosity,” and “friendship” crossed my mind but I didn’t feel like they are core. What are your CORE values?

Renewing My Effort at Full Engagement: Values

As the stress level starts to increase for me this spring (along with busyness) I am determined to make a renewed effort at implementing the philosophies outlined in The Power of Full Engagement and its Corporate Athlete Training System. For those who haven’t read the book:

Objective: Perform in the storm. Build the necessary capacity to sustain high performance in the face of increasing demand.

Central Conclusion: Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance. Capacity is a function of one’s ability to expend and recover energy; every thought, feeling, and action has an energy consequence; energy is the most important individual and organizational resource.

  • Full engagement relies on skillful management of four interrelated dimensions of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
  • To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do.
  • Lifelong Energy Objective: To burn as brightly as possible for as long as possible in the service of what really matters.
  • Full engagement requires periodic strategic recovery (disengagement).
  • Sustained high performance is best served by assuming the mentality of a sprinter, not a marathoner.
  • Most of us are under trained physically and spiritually and over trained mentally and emotionally.

I am going to start with reflecting on values – a value in action is a virtue. What values do I strive to embody regardless of external pressures? Some common values are listed below. After reflecting on this, I will post my thoughts and the next step.

Authenticity Balance Commitment Compassion Concern for others Courage Creativity Empathy Excellence Fairness Faith Family Freedom Friendship Generosity Genuineness Happiness Harmony Health Honesty Humor Integrity Kindness Knowledge Loyalty Openness Perseverance Respect for others Responsibility Security Serenity Service to others

Hanna Boys Center

I’ve added a new TypePad category – Philanthropy – and I will be re-categorizing older posts on this topic into this category, so apologies for any re-publishing of old posts.

This week I had an opportunity to meet with two board members from the Hanna Boys Center an organization working with at-risk youth by helping them realize their potential that may be stymied by the environment they grow up in. If logistics work I will be speaking to the boys at some point. Below is a picture of me (far left) and a few of the boys and other board members and supporters.

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If someone asked you what charitable causes you were passionate about, what would you say? Get involved and reach out.