Philanthropy means the love of humanity. Since the early 1800s, individuals, foundations and corporations have allocated resources to help solve social problems. Monumental investments from philanthropists, such as George Peabody and Andrew Carnegie, introduced a tradition that acquired wealth could be given away to help others. Then came leaders like John D. Rockefeller and the Ford Foundation, which were not just charitable, but that began investing in modern medicine, scientific research, and international development to start addressing social issues at their root cause – so entire populations could do well and grow, and so that less-prosperous countries could increase productivity. These approaches have been widely adopted, even today, through enterprises like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and modern-day corporate philanthropy.
So what has changed over the past 200 years?
Philanthropy has become more intentional and mainstream. Instead of donating extra resources, individuals and businesses are providing central resources, unleashing talent, technology, and financial support to help solve and advance social issues and opportunities. At William Blair, a premier global boutique with expertise in investment banking, investment management, and private wealth management, our Veterans’ Resource Group initiated a partnership with Bunker Labs, a non-profit organization helping veterans across the country start and grow their home office businesses. Our leaders help veterans with financial modeling and provide mentoring, coaching, and support through office hours. Beyond our philanthropic support, this is a perfect alignment of resources to help veteran entrepreneurs.
In addition to just knowing that they work for a good company, employees want to be engaged in the workplace. Being a good corporate citizen is about empowering talent to engage, which ultimately helps with recruiting, engaging, and developing leaders. The William Blair & Company Foundation’s mission is to inspire the next generation of philanthropists. We do this by providing volunteer, matching, and board development programs in all of the offices where we live and work. Our signature Community Partners program is also inspired by employees. Every two years, employees nominate non-profits in their community that are embarking on catalytic growth. An employee committee reviews the grants and ultimately selects organizations that meet the program criteria, which includes meaningful volunteer and engagement opportunities.
Businesses and employees are elevating their purpose. BlackRock CEO Larry Fink stated in his annual letter to CEOs in 2017 that, “without a sense of purpose, no company, either public or private, can achieve its full potential.” All in all, businesses have realized that you can do well by doing good. They have unlocked their talent and resources to solve social issues. They have elevated their purpose to attract talent and more successfully engage with stakeholders. So what’s next?
Solving social issues will go beyond philanthropic and human capital. Businesses will integrate Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) standards more systematically into their products and operations, and they will become more accountable for their goals. According to the Governance and Accountability Institute, in 2016, 82 percent of Standard & Poor’s companies issued Corporate Social Responsibility Reports, indicating a rise in transparency and accountability. That rise is relevant to consumers, too. Beyond philanthropy is purchasing power. A recent Cone Communication survey showed that 87 percent of consumers will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about, and 76 percent will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue that conflicted with their own beliefs or opinions. At William Blair, we look at investments. In a recent white paper, we provided an overview of the sustainable investment landscape, including investor adoption and implementation trends, as well as important sustainable investment themes from an industry perspective.
We all have a role to play in solving the world’s most complex problems, but we have never been better positioned to make a difference.
Written by Laura Coy, Director of Philanthropy Strategy at William Blair Executive Director
Edited by Ana Maria Garcia Bustamante, Medill IMC Class Of 2018