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How Corporate Foundations and CSR Initiatives are ‘Being the Change’

As corporate philanthropy and CSR initiatives experiment with new and more strategic ways to maximize impact on the issues they care about, organizations are increasingly making internal changes.

Earlier this year, FSG published Being the Change – a report on how foundations are changing internally to create greater impact externally. The report featured stories shared by 114 leaders and staff from over 50 organizations that are taking on different approaches to creating social change.

While the study primarily analyzed private, family, and community foundations, corporate foundations and CSR leaders are also employing many of these practices to build more effective partnerships and communities.

Here are 4 ways corporate foundations and CSR leaders can make changes within their organizations to create greater social change:

  1. Consider how staff roles and sizes may need to expand based on new approaches to change.

Foundations—corporate or otherwise—increasingly recognize the benefit that unrestricted funds provide to grantees, allowing organizations to expand staff or reimagine staff roles in ways that better support the impact of their efforts, recognizing that can often be more impactful to have a highly functional team than extra program funds.

Corporate foundation teams are often lean. Rethinking the limit of operational costs within corporate foundations or CSR teams can create additional value in the types of programs supported and the ways in which staff interact with grantees, such as, more collaborative and engaged support, and the ability to fund longer-term collaborative programs. For instance, as the Mastercard Foundation developed their new strategy, Young Africa Works, which focused their work on youth employment, the Foundation’s approach to change has evolved in parallel. The new strategy sees the Foundation shifting to engaging with countries at a deeper systems level to drive long-term impact in Africa through the design of country-specific strategies. Throughout this change in their approach, the Foundation has been mindful of the resources and organizational structure needed to work differently. Over the past year, the Foundation has worked to create more integrated and cross-functional teams to support the idea generation, knowledge, and skills needed to address the more complex approaches to change.

2. Work more collaboratively and creatively with business and functional units to achieve impact goals.

New structures—legal and programmatic—enable foundations to find additional opportunities for impact by supporting for-profit investments, policy advocacy, and greater scale. Corporations are finding ways for their foundations and CSR teams to work in conjunction with their business units to affect societal change. This has manifested in new technological investments aiming towards social and environmental impact and a distribution of talent across organizational functions. In 2016, FSG helped the Dow Chemical Company connect its corporate citizenship and business opportunities by creating and launching the Dow Business Impact Fund to identify and fund shared value projects that could simultaneously create social impact and new business opportunities. In the life sciences industry, we’ve seen corporate foundations launch for-profit subsidiaries to invest in and serve as an incubator for technologies that serve marginalized communities and underserved patients. For example, in 2016, Medtronic Foundation launched Medtronic Labs to internally and externally source financially sustainable businesses that deliver locally-appropriate products, services, and solutions that expand access and reduce health inequality in emerging geographies.

Others are also expanding grantee support outside of traditional grant making by rethinking employee engagement programs to provide skills-based volunteering opportunities that link non-foundation staff with grantees to address critical needs. Prudential Foundation’s Financial Capability team works in partnership with Prudential’s insurance and retirement businesses to create more accessible and innovative products. Merck’s skills-based volunteering program matches employees’ professional skills to non-profits capacity building needs through virtual, short-term projects. The company’s MSD Fellowship for Global Health is a field-based skills-based volunteering program that places employees on-the-ground for three months with non-profit partners and grantees.

3. Value diverse perspectives and help your staff build diverse skillsets.

Working within new structures and designs means that staff will also require new skills and expertise. Foundations are looking for different types of talent, valuing and leveraging a diverse set of experiences, investing in staff development, and building an inclusive environment. Bringing in staff with a diverse set of lived experiences, carving out time and resources for all staff to build diverse skillsets and experiences through dedicated and tailored professional development, and breaking down silos between functions are essential ways to support skill development in this adapting context. 

Techstars, a technology entrepreneurship accelerator, integrates its commitment to increasing opportunities for diverse tech entrepreneurs through its for-profit CSR strategy and foundation. Internally, employees have participated in unconscious bias training, established a mentorship program pairing Techstars accelerator alumni with underrepresented founders, and share a vision for diversity amongst its participants. Its philanthropic counterpart directly funds organizations aiming to increase diversity in technology through other means. Linked to UPS’ CSR strategy for Diversity and Inclusion is its Community Internship Program which allows UPS executives to immerse in social and economic challenges facing vulnerable populations. For three weeks, managers leave their jobs and families to work in a San Francisco- or New York City-based non-profit agency under the direction of an external coordinator.

4. Model internally the values and practices you seek to achieve externally.

Asking grantees to operate and think differently is difficult. As corporations increasingly move to engage more deeply and authentically with grantees and the communities in which they work, modeling these changes—like willingness to experiment, iterate, and fail or putting greater emphasis on equity and shifting power dynamics—within a corporate foundation or among CSR staff can signal to grantees the importance your organization places on these issues and new ways of operating.

Corresponding with its values to better the environment, in addition to supplying more than $8 million in grants to 80 nonprofit organizations this year through its Conservation Fund, the Walt Disney Company has reduced net emissions by 41% from 2012 levels. It has also achieved a 46% diversion rate of operational waste generated from their theme parks and resorts, ESPN, studios, and office locations. Alliance Data’s Corporate Responsibility team implemented a 50|50 initiative aimed at achieving equal representation of men and women in their Epsilon Bangalore business in India. In partnership with the Smile Foundation, the company launched a unique referral program and committed to sponsoring a young girl’s education for five years for every successful female hire.

Read Being the Change >

Learn more about FSG’s Corporate/CSR services >

Andria Seneviratne

Senior Consultant

Nikhil Bumb

Associate Director