The Tightrope Walk of Corporate Philanthropy

“The business of business is business.” This quote by Milton Friedman illustrates a contentious debate in corporate philanthropy which rages to this day.

The US currently ‘allows’ corporations to donate to nonprofits. This wasn’t always the case. It was argued many years ago that the businesses owe it to their shareholders to invest in the company, not in society.

There is a fine line between the interests of business and the interests of society.  Don’t both parties benefit from an educated, well-equipped work force? A robust arts culture? Streets free from graffiti and gang violence? Of course. After all, we’re in this together.

There are many ways for a business to contribute to the nonprofit sector. For example, businesses can donate dollars or product, can co-create social marketing campaigns, can co-market products which increase revenues for both the business and the nonprofits, and they can fund nonprofits which advance political agendas.

In each of these options, business has an opportunity to

1) contribute to society and

2) advance their own self-interest.

Some of the benefits to businesses include increased consumer confidence, brand exposure, and employee engagement.

This is okay. Really. As long as it is done in an appropriate, ethical manner, it’s okay that business benefit.

Many nonprofits will cry that businesses should be supporting the nonprofits without realizing any direct benefits. That is ridiculous. When any one of us donates to a nonprofit, we are fulfilling a self-interest. Whether it is a tax deduction or just a ‘warm glow’ from a good deed well done, we benefit. In fact, if you really look at the nonprofit sector, it is very difficult to separate the gift from self-interest of the donor.  Heck, it is difficult to separate the self-interest of the staff from the self-interest of society. . . We are a very, very muddy sector.

Business is an important part of society. A very important part. Business provides jobs, allows us to purchase the goods we need (and many we don’t need), and business contributes to security nets like Workers Compensation, Social Security, Family Medical Leave, etc. All of this is important.

Business walks a tightrope when donating to nonprofits.  Let’s not make it hard for them to contribute. When corporate philanthropy is done thoughtfully, we all benefit.


What do you think? Comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts.


One response to “The Tightrope Walk of Corporate Philanthropy

  1. Marty Jeane PhD, LPC-S, LMFT

    I really appreciated your comments on social media. I am the director of a small non-profit who does an extremely small amount of social media. I would love to use something like MailChimp to publicize events to our clients. My concerns are in using client email lists and turning them over to MailChimp. Wouldn’t this be a HIPPA violation? Any help you could give would be appreciated.

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