Is “saving the world” the only way to do good?

In the June 2008 issue of Inc. Magazine, there’s a short article about corporate giving that paints a somewhat unflattering view of privately held American companies. While the numbers are impressive, the article points to the rationale as to why companies give and draws the conclusion that the companies, at least the ones they spoke to, have less than altruistic reasons for their charitable giving.

So, let’s start with the numbers from the Grant Thornton International Business Report survey:

94% of US respondents said they donate to community groups or charitable causes
65% of companies in other countries reported doing the same

82% of US businesses actively participated in community service projects
55% of companies in other countries reported having done so

But, those numbers tell a different tale when the companies were asked why they participated in these activities. Both US and non-US companies stated the main reason for their activities was to promote recruitment and retention. That fact alone would make the survey results somewhat disappointing but it was the last finding of the study mentioned in the article that truly paints a less-than altruistic picture, at least according to the author.

21% of US companies said their efforts were motivated by “saving the earth”?

40% of companies worldwide reported “saving the earth” as a major motivator for their gifts of time and money

It would seem that those two numbers lead to the conclusion that Americans are less interested in doing good, again, at least to the author. He goes on to paint a somewhat cynical view of these numbers and closes the article with a quotation of “Why not do this?”

Personally, I strongly disagree with the conclusions made here. Let’s think about this a bit more objectively. You own a company that makes blankets and you provide blankets every year to the local homeless shelter. If someone walked up to that company owner and asked him or her why they were donating those blankets, what are the chances they are going to tell you it’s because they want to “save the world”??

One of the most loving and biggest charitable events that I have ever been a part of is the annual Raul Jimenez Thanksgiving Day Dinner in San Antonio, TX. Every year, the Jimenez family feeds tens of thousands of Texans a Thanksgiving dinner with all the fixings. Local bands perform and thousands of volunteers, like myself, come for the days of preparation, the day-long event, or just for a few hours to help feed the crowds of poor, lonely, or anyone else who might not have a place to go on the holiday. Trust me, “saving the world” is not part of what motivates that family to continue an event that truly shows how thankful they are for their good fortune.

I am disappointed by the results of the study and the implied conclusion that if a charitable gift is not motivated by “saving the world” it is somehow less of a gift. What that study failed to recognize is the millions, if not billions, of dollars and hours of time given by American companies, both large and small, that are given for much more personal and pure reasons than “saving the world”.

The problem with most surveys is that they, by their nature, have only a few choices for respondents to pick from. The Jimenez dinner was a gift given to the people of San Antonio by a local businessman wishing to share his success with his community. He had no illusions of saving the world.

The subtitle of the piece is “U.S. companies are by far bigger givers than their global counterparts. Yet they’re not particularly interested in doing good.”

So very sad, that in order to do good in 2008, one must be part of the cliche; as saving the world has truly become an almost meaningless phrase. The author seems to tie the whole article to the cynical view that what giving is done by US companies is driven to a huge extent by the marketability of their social responsibility and converting it into sales and that they don’t particularly care about the people or organizations they are helping.

Whether their reasons are pure, as the Jimenez family’s are, or purely for recruitment and retention, does it really matter why people are doing good things for others in the long run?

Since when does the donation of money and/or time have to be related to “saving the world” to be worthwhile?

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