From Confetti to Ecosystem Change: What's Your Corporate Philanthropy Strategy?

February 23, 2016

Kristen Holway, Director of Learning Strategy

Corporate philanthropists face a set of unique challenges — internal and external expectations — in our sector. They must balance the desire to support their communities and be a force for good, while continuing to provide value to shareholders, engage employees and demonstrate quantifiable results. For even the most experienced and well-intentioned executives, finding and managing a CSR strategy that shifts these competing priorities into complementary goals can prove complex.

These challenges brought executives from a dozen companies together, including Philanthropy Northwest members Bank of America, BECU, Microsoft Philanthropies, Premera Blue Cross and REI, for a workshop on best practices for transforming existing CSR portfolios into results-focused, business-aligned societal engagement. Our facilitators — Greg Hills, managing director, FSG Boston and Patty Russell, managing director, FSG Seattle — led the room through an examination of three practical tools, which FSG developed in partnership with the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) to help corporate executives clarify their CSR approach and desired impact, the direct connections to their business objectives and the process by which they carry out and measure their work. 

Kristen Ragain of REI goes through the different impact models the national retail co-op uses for its philanthropy.
REI's mission of a life outdoors is a life well lived gets reflected in its philanthropy, focused on supporting nature and outdoor education.

Some corporate executives expressed a desire to create a more targeted portfolio out of their current "confetti" strategy — scattering funds across a broad swath of community programs. The confetti approach may build goodwill, but your impact becomes diluted and almost impossible to measure. Others shared examples of corporate philanthropy investments that leverage company assets and reflect core values, such as Microsoft's recent announcement that it will donate $1 billion in cloud services to nonprofit partners and REI's OptOutside call to action on Black Friday 2015

"This is not just about philanthropy," one participant said. "This is good for our business, too."

Download the report from FSG and watch our short interview with FSG's Patty Russell below. You may also consider attending the webinar version of the same program hosted by our colleagues at Associated Grant Makers, 9 a.m. Pacific time on March 29.

Save the Date: On June 6, Philanthropy Northwest and ACCP will host a half-day corporate philanthropy session in Seattle on proving internal ROI.

Kristen Holway is director of Philanthropy Northwest's learning strategy. She can be reached at