Managing risk and maxismising return


Thelma Harris


The recent C-Summit 2019 brought together a large number of Europe’s corporate foundations to explore, alongside other corporate social investors (CSIs), how to align with their related company to maximise social impact. A joint DAFNE and EVPA event, the C-Summit was hosted by main partners the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt at their offices in Munich.

Coming from Ireland, a country where few corporates have established formal philanthropic foundations, it was refreshing to attend the C-Summit and witness how across Europe corporate philanthropy is developing and exploring how it can work more effectively with the corporate parent via alignment to maximise social impact.

With recent research by EVPA identifying four categories of alignment; instrumental, thematic, industry and business, not all foundations are travelling on the same path when it comes to aligning with their related corporate. It was important to hear how individual foundations utilise different approaches depending on the relationship with the corporate, and the mission of the foundation.

But what can companies in Ireland, where the corporate world is delivering vibrant corporate giving programmes but failing to embrace formal corporate foundations take from the discussions in Munich? For me there was one key takeaway that I will be sharing with Philanthropy Ireland’s corporate members and the local business sector here in Dublin: Irish corporates are already embracing the principles of alignment when it comes to corporate giving but there is potential for increased social impact via the establishment of a corporate foundation.

A conference poll identified that most CSI’s in the room saw themselves as currently being thematically aligned but striving towards business alignment, hoping to align their own mission with the company’s overall (inclusive) business strategy, with the aim of supporting the business in advancing sustainable practices into its value chain. Here in Ireland we could argue that the giving arms of our corporates are leaders in alignment and already understand well the benefits of this particular strand. So why should our corporates consider formal foundations when the current system works well for them, and in some respects, they are already exemplars of alignment? I believe Irish corporates are missing out on two of the main benefits of establishing corporate foundations:

  1. Having a mechanism focused on achieving the maximum return on the social investment from the parent company
  2. Offering a mechanism to assume risks while protecting the founding corporate

And, the C-Summit 2019 provided a wealth of case studies to support both advantages.

As well as leaving Munich encouraged by the fact that Irish companies are embracing alignment when it comes to their giving, I was delighted to meet, by chance, with Clare Beavan from the DWF Foundation at the C-Summit. The DWF Foundation was founded in 2015 and is an example of one of the newest corporate foundations active in Ireland, thanks to DWF’s corporate presence here.

Hearing about Clare’s work with the DWF Foundation in Ireland strengthened an aspiration I have for corporate philanthropy in Ireland based on experience in the sector and research I completed at the Graduate Center (CUNY) last year as part of Centre for Philanthropy and Civil Society’s Future Leaders Fellowship Programme.

I am hopeful that as Ireland becomes further exposed to international companies (such as DWF), these companies will bring with them their philanthropic practices from their home countries. Our corporates can learn from these and adapt for our own environment. We in Philanthropy Ireland are already seeing evidence of this, albeit in modest but promising numbers.

I have returned to Ireland hopeful that formal, strategic corporate foundations will increasingly become the norm here, particularly as we attract new corporates to Irish shores who can potentially act as ambassadors for corporate philanthropy. I am confident too that as corporate giving in Ireland evolves in this way, the Irish corporate’s instinct to embrace alignment, will see us become an exemplar for corporate philanthropy. And perhaps an Irish example will soon be centre stage at a future C-Summit!

Thelma Harris is Strategy and Engagement Manager at Philanthropy Ireland. In 2018 she took part in the Emerging Leaders International Fellows Programme at The Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society at The Graduate Center of The City University of New York, where her focus was on corporate philanthropy.

Tagged in: CSummit19

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