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The Secret Life of a Corporate Philanthropist – Part 1

October 22, 2009

Cash sign_croppedIt sounds like the coolest job ever: give out other people’s money to charities. Indeed, being a corporate philanthropist was an incredibly rewarding job – something I never regret doing. It’s a job where you can truly make a difference in hundreds if not thousands of communities across the world.

At the same time, there are parts of the job that many people never get to see. These can be people outside the company and even inside the company.

Here are some of the secret aspects of having a really neat and fun job:


As a corporate philanthropist, how do you know you’re good at your job? One sign: you’re able to tell people no clearly and in a way that doesn’t alienate them from working with you or your business ever again.

Saying “no” is a large, large, large part of the job. It’s a matter of math – no matter how large your budget is, you’ll never have all the resources you want. Most of the charities applying to your company aren’t a good fit, but you probably won’t be able to fund some of those that are a good match.

Think you’re ready to say “yes” to a nonprofit? Hold on. You have to be very careful about saying yes. At any moment, especially in this economic environment, your budget could be slashed. The lesson is simple: never, ever give a commitment until you are certain your company will stand behind your word.


It is a really great job. The problem is: everyone else thinks so. Everyone else wants your job. And everyone else thinks your job is easy. On one hand, that’s great because you can usually have great conversations at cocktail parties.

But the thing is – most people don’t get to see what your job is really like. People would love the idea of saying yes to every nonprofit that comes along – but don’t know about the emotional drag associated with saying “no” 99 times for every one time you get to say “yes.”

This perception leads to bigger problems, sometimes within the company. Many people see your job as “a nice thing to do” or as something the company “has always done.” A big part of your job will be to try to gain the respect for corporate philanthropy as a true business driver. You will have to fight this fight among your coworkers, senior leaders, friends, and family.

The best way to do this, by the way, is to put the right measurement strategy in place so you can prove your impact – not just assume it.

Click here to read Part 2.


The writer is the editor of —  You can contact him at JamesERatcitizenpolitydotcom or follow him on Twitter:

Copyright 2009 – CitizenPolity & James Epstein-Reeves – Not to be used without the written permission of CitizenPolity or the author.


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