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Earlier this month, the Conference Board and Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy released their preliminary analysis of corporate philanthropy during 2011. They found that that the overall level of corporate giving rose in 2011 in comparison to 2010 and to approach -- but not yet reach -- pre-recession levels. Although overall corporate giving rose, the median level of giving (the level of giving at which half of all companies give more and half of all companies give less) fell very slightly in 2011 in comparison to 2010.

I spoke with Margaret Coady, director of the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, about her organization’s findings. She was optimistic about the overall recovery of corporate philanthropy and trends within corporate philanthropy. One trend she emphasized is an increasing sophistication within corporate philanthropy in which companies are making fewer but larger grants:

We have data that suggests that giving officers are overseeing fewer grants, but the grants are larger and in areas were companies have more expertise. Companies are looking for issues where they can leverage their own resources and know-how. Giving officers are telling us that these synergies lead to deeper, more long-term partnerships with non-profits.

Ms. Coady described discussing this finding at a summit of 250 corporate giving officers in mid-June. She polled the giving officers on how best to complete the headline, “Companies are more focused because. . . .” Eighty-two percent chose “. . . they are more thoughtful and strategic about where they give" while a mere 18 percent chose “. . . fewer staff and management resources are causing them to be more efficient,” suggesting that the giving officers judge that fewer, larger grants may be a long-term trend in corporate giving.

Ms. Coady also noted an increase in giving outside companies’ headquarter countries:

The interesting thing we see in the data is that giving outside the headquarter country is usually additive to what the company is doing at home. Companies like to recognize the importance of their customers and workforce in the countries where they’re doing business. But there isn’t usually a trade-off between giving abroad and giving at home: our data suggests that the companies that are giving more abroad were those with increasing profits from overseas operations and they were increasing their overall giving by adding new programs abroad to their giving in their headquarters country.

The growth of corporate philanthropy outside headquarter countries has led the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy to adopt the language of “giving” rather than to continue to use terms like the “philanthropy” or “corporate social responsibility. As Ms. Coady explained:

The CECP has really tried to expand our view about giving in the past couple years as we put together The Global Guide to What Counts. We’ve found that “giving” and “contributions” resonate best outside the United States. Philanthropy has a long tradition in the U.S. with assumptions that aren’t shared elsewhere; likewise, some terms like “social investment” and “impact investment” have technical definitions that represent a subset of the good that companies are trying to accomplish.

In addition to a trend to fewer but larger grants and increases in giving abroad, Ms. Coady noted changes in companies’ programs to match employees’ philanthropic contributions:

The percentage of corporate giving that is given through employee-driven programs like matching grants and engagement programs has remained pretty steady at 13 percent for the past few years. But there have been shifts within that 13 percent: for example, one exciting kind of program that is growing is “dollars for doers,” which is really important in this period when people are stretching financially. Companies are saying to their employees: if you volunteer your time, even if you don’t give money, we’ll recognize the value of your time by giving a cash grant.

Corporate profits are recovering, but companies are clearly still waiting for the business climate to rebound more fully before they’re ready to recommit to corporate giving at the level of five years ago with exception of the strong growth in contributions to organizations in countries where companies are doing business abroad. Interestingly, these are the same trends have seen in philanthropy more generally: a slow recovery that still falls short of pre-recession philanthropy with the exception of increasing philanthropy to global causes (for more on these trends, see the newly released Giving USA 2012).

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