Modern philanthropy has moved on from building libraries and concert halls, wonderful as such artistic and community-enhancing projects are. Charitable giving is up, year over year, both among the general populace and in business donations, and it’s not hard to see why.
With global continuous news sources, pervasive social media and higher literacy and education rates than ever before, we have unprecedented insight into the needs of people down the block and across the world. We hear about the struggle of underprivileged schoolchildren, college students sinking under skyrocketing debt, workers in declining industries left high and dry, climate and political refugees without the necessities of life… Not only do we have increasing awareness of these needs, but a growing confidence that we can get involved and help – often using marketplace skills and sensibilities to make a difference for those in need, and by extension, our own organization.
1. Elon Musk models the new wave of business philanthropy through investment in for-profit as well as non-profit initiatives that take into account social and environmental well-being. His automobile – and now energy – company, Tesla, is well known for being at the bleeding edge of environmental innovation in solar-electric power, contributing to rapid positive change in the energy supply industry. Musk also donates solar power systems to post-disaster communities through another of his companies, Solar City, advances scientific innovation and research into space travel and colonization technologies through Space-X, and both donates to, and has for-profit interests in, the development – and regulation of – artificial intelligence. He unifies his for-profit and non-profit ventures under an umbrella philanthropic vision of working towards the benefit of the future of humanity. This blended approach puts the goal before the method, marshaling every possible resource to reach the desired income, regardless of whether business or non-profits achieve it first. Musk’s personal and various business brands have also benefited from the philanthropic mission at their core.
2. Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan also opted to invest in philanthropy through a for-profit corporate structure. Sometimes called Impact Investing, this approach takes a charitable or philanthropic mission and places it at the heart of a business, harnessing the power, resources and skills of the marketplace to work towards a better world. Ideally, Impact Investing can achieve its mission using the engine of the corporation, rolling ongoing funding into growth and mission-targeted goals rather than investor dividends.
3. The Karen and Charles Phillips Charitable Organization takes the approach of erasing overhead costs to maximize the support they can offer. Run by four friends and business leaders in concert, the organization provides financial aid to areas of personal interest and relevance, namely single-parent households, engineering students, and wounded veterans. Operating on a 100% volunteer basis allows the organization to pass along all funds to help those in need with a minimum of bureaucracy. With increasing attention being paid to the percentage of donations being diverted to such overhead costs as administration, management and marketing, a zero-overhead non-profit carries a certain sparkle to discerning donors, as well as providing obvious benefits to those it helps with the full financial resources at its disposal.
4. Elon Musk’s various investments and donations model another successful principle in business philanthropy, an avenue to test new ideas, principles and initiatives that have the potential to benefit both the marketplace and philanthropic goals. Space exploration and colonization and artificial intelligence including the neural lace research are some of the more extreme examples of this, but other organizations can harness this positive effect by trialing innovative management or production approaches as well as research and development initiatives across non-profit and for-profit boundaries.
5. Finally, in another Facebook-related case, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna model the principal of Effective Altruism, which can be described as evidence-based philanthropic investment. Using data and analysis to identify the areas of highest need or with the most potential for positive change can help moderate the very emotional and sometimes impractical world of charitable donations and philanthropy, and by extension, boost results significantly. In the case of Moskovitz and Tuna, the use of data and analysis has led them to less glamorous or well-publicized causes such as widespread iodine-deficiency, a relatively solvable issue.
Business leaders have shown great innovation, determination and skill in applying their professional acumen and the weight of organizations to philanthropic causes – with significant benefit to everyone involved. Such involvement and investment, whether it’s a corporate mission oriented toward human well-being, or a dedicated charitable allocation, consistently reflects back positively on both the donor companies, and the leaders behind the initiatives, explaining in part why corporate philanthropy has grown to hundreds of billions of dollars in the United States alone, and continues to grow.
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