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The Secret Life of a Corporate Philanthropist – Part 2

October 23, 2009

This article is a continuation of Part 1.


If you work for a public or at least prominent company – you will get emails, letters, and phone calls from everyone. Everyone.  Seriously. Remember the first section of this article? Get used to saying “no.”

The X-Files is something I started to find the humor in everyday life as a philanthropist. You see, you will get really interesting mail from people who do not have all of their… faculties.

For example, I once got a letter from someone who wanted my company to become a founding funder of a telepathy research institute.  The interesting part is, this person wrote a six page letter to tell me this, which begs the question – couldn’t the person just have told me this via telepathy?

I also received a letter from a promising high school student who wanted us to donate a laptop because he was attending a leadership conference. Fair enough. The only trouble is – in his five sentence letter, he included 34+ spelling and grammatical errors. Not exactly the wisest thing to do when asking for thousands of dollars of donated products.


Sometimes, some fundraisers have different expectations of the role of businesses in society. To be clear, most professional fundraisers are exactly that: professional.  But I have been approached by individuals who have threatened to withdraw their business from my company if we didn’t donate to their fundraiser. The fundraiser also clearly violated our giving guidelines and philosophy.  For the record, we didn’t give to his event.  Our policy was that we would never expect a charity to switch its business to us if we gave them a grant. That would be wrong of us ethically and perhaps legally.

Another example that didn’t happen to me, but to someone I know. She was once told by a Reverend that if she didn’t reverse her decision not to fund his scholarship program, then she would “be going to hell.”  Yikes, talking about pressure (she didn’t given in, by the way).

I know fundraising is tough, especially during the Great Recession, and while I do believe business have a responsibility to support the communities they serve, it’s important not to over-burden that responsibility with outsized expectations that business must support every deserving cause.


Most jobs have duties that no one else sees and corporate philanthropy is no exception. This can be everything from working with budgets to, say, working with your accounts payable department to find out why a charity never received the check that was supposed to be sent.

The biggest eater of time? Saying no. As I mentioned, if you’re good at your job, you’re good at saying no. But turning people down involves being sensitive to those who you’re dealing with– people who are your customers or potential customers by the way. This involves time and it’s necessary to set up a process to make it easier to manage your corporate giving program. It’s true that you can set up templates to help make it easier, but sometimes all it takes is one or two phone calls that need a response to eat away ten or fifteen minutes of your time.

If you’re not careful with managing your time properly, you will quickly find that it is the clock that is managing you.

Still yet, despite these hidden aspects of the job, being a corporate philanthropist is an incredible opportunity. The best way to have fun at your job is to structure your company’s giving program to fit your company’s values, business model, and strengths.

If you do that first, all of the things I mentioned above just become part of the background, allowing you to fully take advantage of the opportunities of your job to change the world.


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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