Corporate Philanthropy Helps Turn Companies Into Good Citizens

By Bruce DeBoskey | Dec 11, 2013

The business case supporting corporate philanthropy is well documented. Enhanced employee recruitment, lower turnover, higher job satisfaction, customer preference and loyalty for companies that invest in communities, and higher profits have been demonstrated by studies.

Although these might be interesting and important points that enhance stakeholders' comfort with an expanded view of corporate citizenship, for some business executives they are not the raison d'être for making social investments in the communities in which they operate.

Kent Thiry, chairman and chief executive of DaVita, is one of those executives. With headquarters in Denver, DaVita is an international provider of kidney dialysis services with 42,000 employees, serving 142,000 patients a week, with 18 million treatments a year. Net revenue for 2011 totaled nearly $7 billion.

Although Thiry is aware of the business case for corporate philanthropy, that is not his motivation for leading a company with a core commitment to community investment and active corporate citizenship. Rather, Thiry thinks "companies can be an amazing and formidable force for good without sacrificing capitalist goals" and encourages DaVita's employees and his peers to "use social innovation to harness market forces along with philanthropy to solve the scale of the social problems we face."

Businesses, working alongside nonprofit groups and government, bring unparalleled resources to address pressing community needs in health, education, environment, housing, poverty, employment and equity.

DaVita's philanthropic initiatives include employee volunteerism, corporate donations, support of kidney-disease awareness and education initiatives. In an employee-driven community investment program called "DaVita Way of Giving," more than 600 DaVita clinics across the country select locally focused charities to receive more than $1 million in combined contributions. By empowering employees with the responsibility of selecting local charities to support, DaVita creates a sense of pride and ownership in the company. Observing the pride
DaVita employees have in their company, Thiry quips, "No one ever washes a rental car."

Thiry says companies choose between being "residents" of the communities in which they operate and being participating "citizens." As DaVita's leader, he asserts that "no community is self-sustaining" and that it is "not reasonable to expect communities to be business friendly, if the businesses that operate there are not community friendly." Contending that "business decisions are profoundly and inherently moral," Thiry encourages companies to invest in their internal and external communities.

There are many resources for business leaders who wish to expand their roles as corporate citizens. The Corporate Community Investment Network is a Colorado-based organization comprised of local professionals who have primary responsibility for managing community investment programs for businesses.

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy is a large and impressive network of global CEOs committed to corporate philanthropy that highlights "best practices" and provides resources to corporations.

Boston College's Center for Corporate Citizenship offers excellent training in the field of business philanthropy. A Billion Plus Change is a national campaign to inspire the largest commitment of corporate skills-based and pro bono services to nonprofits ever. The Council on Foundations has a division specifically focused on corporate grant makers.

Thiry leads a Fortune 500 company that strives to be a good corporate citizen, rather than merely a resident, of the many communities across the U.S. and beyond in which it operates. Thiry opines: "Most human beings want to be part of a team that is trying to do something that's good for the world" and promotes business philanthropy and responsible corporate citizenship not merely for their business justifications, but "because it's the right thing to do."

Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic strategist working with The DeBoskey Group to help businesses, foundations and families design and implement thoughtful philanthropic strategies and actionable plans. More at .