In two recent blogs, I discussed the growing trends by which companies are:
- Integrating corporate social responsibility (CSR) and Corporate Philanthropy initiatives into their business strategies; and
- Migrating from passive philanthropic donations of cash, to active contributions of their products, and especially the expertise of their employees to the needs of their communities.
These companies increasingly recognize that reputations for social responsibility can burnish the company’s brand, attract new customers, aid in recruiting employees and improve employee commitment to the organization. Some companies use philanthropic activities to facilitate entry into new markets, improve economies in existing markets and even increase share prices. They also see this active involvement as delivering much greater and more sustainable benefits to the causes they support.
IBM is a case in point. This is the first in a series of two blogs that examine how IBM is rapidly evolving its corporate philanthropy program to align with the company’s business strategy. This blog assesses the company’s changing priorities and their linkages to some of its core business objectives. The second blog (scheduled for June 26), looks at how the company is expanding and measuring both the corporate and social returns of these programs.
Toward a Business-Aligned Philanthropy Strategy
IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative, in which the company works with communities to improve everything from their water supply to their traffic flow, facilitates what IBM views as a growing “fusion” between its business and citizenship strategies. Its efforts to address societal issues such as the environment, community economic development, education, health and literacy, increasingly rely on “IBM’s most valuable resources, our technology and talent, to create innovative programs” to assist these communities.
This has not always been the case. Although IBM has always been a major contributor to social causes, back in the mid-1980s, it often subjectively allocated contributions to causes in communities in which IBM operated and had employees. 95% of these contributions were in cash.
While struggling to get the lumbering giant back on its feet, Lou Gerstner hired a new executive to restructure the company’s social initiatives. This executive, Stanley Litow, was charged with applying the company’s philanthropic resources to address the needs of society in a way that would simultaneously:
- Advance IBM’s own business objectives; and
- Maximize the value of IBM’s “social investments” through donations of the company’s technology and expertise, in addition to its cash.
These focuses were further refined under current CEO Sam Palmisano, who insisted on methodically aligning IBM’s community service efforts around the company’s business expertise and on applying IBM technology and expertise, in areas including cloud, analytics and security, to societal needs. He also required quantification of the value of these investments (the value to IBM, as well as to beneficiaries) and on working more effectively with partners to better leverage and scale IBM’s efforts. As of 2009, for example:
- 25% of IBM’s investments were in growth markets compared with an average of 1% for other companies;
- Almost 75% of these investments were aligned around education and employee development, with most of the remainder being spread across human services, environment, health and culture; and
- 55% of investments were in the form of technology and another 23.3% in services, with cash accounting for less than 22% .
IBM has steadily increased the resources it donates to charitable causes from less than $150 million in 2005 to more than $185 million in 2009. While this includes the company’s Matching Grants and Community Grants programs, it does not include the $36 million individual IBMers contribute through the company’s Employee Charitable Contribution campaign or the close to 1 million hours of their own time that current and retired IBMers dedicate to social causes of their own choosing under IBM’s On Demand Community program. Valuing these hours at a modest $25 per hour translates into an additional $24 million.
IBM is also expanding its commitments to its social programs, focusing on building longer-term, more sustainable relationships with its causes and its partners as a means of maintaining continuity, ensuring meaningful knowledge transfer, and of achieving long-term and sustainable results.
Educating the Workforce of the Future
While the increase in overall funds that IBM allocates to corporate contributions has been gradual, the change in the composition of these contributions has been dramatic. Education, for, example, grew from 67.5% to 73.4% over the last five years, while the percentage donated to cultural causes has fallen by half, from $11.2 million to 4.7 million.
The allocation of these educational contributions has shifted much more dramatically than the overall sums. While more than 55% of IBM’s 2005 educational contributions went the K-12 in 2005, 67.7% now goes to higher education.
As I discuss in detail in my 2010 report on IBM’s Academic Initiative, these educational resources are being applied much more programmatically and in a way that generates greater returns—to IBM, the schools with which it works and to students—than did the company’s previous efforts. It contributes hardware and software to computer science labs; funds scholarships, internships and interdisciplinary Smarter Planet research projects; and contributes IBM talent to help universities tune curricula and teach classes. Meanwhile, its Global Citizen’s Portfolio provides a range of tools to help fund employee’s lifetime learning, encourage them to mentor other IBMers and even prepare for new careers in teaching, government or non-profit service.
Why is IBM placing such a focus on education in general and higher education in particular? First, there is a huge need. Education is the Number One-rated corporate philanthropic priority of CEOs in general, and of IT companies in particular. It is also cited as the single greatest need by community managers. Second, IBM, like many tech companies, is already struggling to find adequate numbers of people with the skills required for today’s jobs. It sees even greater talent shortages in the future—particularly for the type of “T-shaped” people (those with a broad understanding of multiple disciplines and skills, combined with deep skills in a specific field) that will be required to develop, market, implement and manage the type of Smarter Planet solutions on which IBM is betting its future.
IBM is working, first and foremost, to help universities educate adequate numbers of people with the skills that it will require in the future, while simultaneously identifying and forming relationships with the most promising of these students while they are still in school. IBM’s need for T-shaped people, however, goes well beyond its own direct needs. It is also working to ensure that such people are available to IBM partners and customers and that these people are familiar with (and ideally have favorable impressions of) IBM and its technologies.
Improving Life in IBM’s New Growth Markets
As I mentioned, there been a big shift in the geographic destination of IBM’s charitable contributions. In 2005, for example, almost 70% of IBM’s donations went to the U.S, with Europe, Japan and Canada accounting for much of the remainder. By 2009, 25% of these funds went to emerging and developing countries, with contributions to Asia Pacific and Latin America both more than tripling over the last five years.
Why the big shift to emerging countries? Three primary reasons. First, as great the needs of the developed world, those of poorer countries are even greater. Second, IBM is becoming much more global, with about two-thirds of its revenues now coming from overseas, and three-quarters of its employees now based overseas—with particularly rapid growth in emerging countries, especially India and China.
This leads to a third, more pragmatic reason. IBM, like most other large corporations, sees much of its future growth coming from these countries. While it is already established in some of these countries, it has little presence in many of the smaller countries and, even in those in which it is well-represented, has little exposure in second- and third-tier cities.
Contributions to these countries generates exposure for IBM in preparation of marketing efforts, gives IBM employees a better understanding of the needs of these areas and helps to build IBM’s bona fides as a corporate citizen of these countries. Meanwhile, programs including Corporate Service Corps, Executive Services Corps and Smarter City Challenge provide emerging country communities with pro bono consulting to address critical Smarter Planet-related needs. These engagements deliver direct and immediate benefit to these countries while simultaneously providing them with an idea of the even greater benefits that may be achieved though broader, paid engagements. The consultants, meanwhile, provide a very human face to the giant corporation.
IBM is clearly channeling its philanthropic activities more strategically than in the past, insisting that they deliver value both to their beneficiaries, and to IBM itself. But as the company increasingly views these contributions more as investments than as gifts, it is also insisting that every given dollar worth of contribution produce the greatest possible return. My June 26 blog examines how IBM is both amplifying and measuring the returns—both social and corporate—of these programs.