Corporate Philanthropy

Many people in business ethics are kind of ambivalent about corporate philanthropy. Certainly, there’s at least reason to be uncomfortable when people equate — and they sometimes do — charitable donations with ethics in general. Corporate giving, in itself, doesn’t make a company ethics. And if a company (or one of its executives) has a history of questionable behaviour, giving a few tens of thousands of dollars to a few charities clearly doesn’t wipe the slate clean.

Just how good, ethically, is corporate philanthropy? Some people argue that corporations (or businesses more generally) have an obligation to “give something back.” Others (most notably Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman) argue that when corporate executives give money to charities, they are essentially “stealing” that money from shareholders. Still others point out that corporate giving can have a powerful positive effect on a corporation’s image.

Then, of course, there’s the question of what kinds of causes to donate to. What counts as a “good” cause? Most of us would say that donations to a local little-league team or a charity helping the homeless is a good thing. But what about donations to a pro-life, or pro-choice, organization? What about donations to controversial environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth? Should philanthropy be focused on causes where the needs are greatest (perhaps famine relief in Africa) or should companies focus on causes closer to home?

Articles on corporate giving, from

[Edited Aug 12, 2010, to eliminate post script referring to a website that no longer exists.]

1 comment so far

  1. Henk J.Th. Van Stokkom on

    You only ‘give something back’ if you have borrowed, or stolen it.
    Otherwise you give (something).

    And ‘giving something’ does not sound your enthousiastic, passionate or whatever as well……

    Companies should not give money (Friedman is right). But companies should share knowledge, expertise etc.

    And not to charities the ‘boss’ (or her husband) like, but to charities that fit to what the company does for a living………..

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