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Corporations are giving back at an all-time high. Last year’s cash and in-kind donations topped $18 billion (says the Giving USA Annual Report that tracks charitable giving). That’s up 10% from 2010, compared to the slower 2% increase you see from individuals.

Why do corporations go against their inherent money-making nature and invest in these [costly] charitable engagements? Is it really giving back? Does this mean they might actually be…altruistic? 

A corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement is in full force, and it’s a practice that goes beyond writing a blank check to a charitable organization. Corporations are being smart about how they give back by integrating CSR into their holistic business strategy.  

For example, funding financial education training seminars in low-income communities means banks build a larger base of people who know how to manage their money and, therefore, can keep more of it in the bank. By incentivizing employees to provide pro-bono legal services, law firms diversify the skills and knowledge base of their staff – and make them feel good about the company they work for, which is good for employee retention. By giving corporate grants and scholarships to support local educational, arts, human services, and environmental initiatives, consulting firms support the communities where their employees and customers live and work. By investing in their communities, companies show that they’re good citizens, which can get them more customers, and help to make the neighborhood a more attractive place to do business – so they are also investing in themselves. In sum, CSR achieves impact in the community, but it also maximizes ROI, increases competitiveness, and boosts profitability down the road.

So, can corporate giving be seen as truly charitable, or is it just another way to raise the bottom line? Maybe the better question is: how can you help corporations meet their CSR goals and get some cash to fund your work?

ksimon@fairmountinc.com