ICYMI: The Future of Corporate Philanthropy (Huffington Post)

Corporate Foundations: From Good Enough to Highest Return
Monday, January 30, 2017 12:59 pm EST

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David Etzwiler, CEO, Siemens Foundation

The world is changing rapidly and corporate philanthropy needs to be at its best to stay aligned with its needs. Maintaining a strong ROI for those we serve is challenging and “good enough” thinking is tempting in the midst of our days. How to keep our purpose fresh was the main theme of a recent blog originally posted on Huffington Post by Siemens CEO, David Etzwiler on January 23rd

Corporate foundations play an important role in the philanthropy landscape because they have the ability to leverage business assets in ways community, public and private foundations do not. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Denver Frederick, host of “The Business of Giving,” about how corporate philanthropy stays relevant and aligned with today’s societal needs. In particular, we spoke about the challenges of going beyond identifying problems to building strategies that drive the highest return on investment for those we serve. (Listen to the full interview HERE)

Missions and strategies of foundations nearly always originate from some version of a central organizing question or moral imperative: “What assets do we have to engage in the critical issues of society and how do we arrange and invest those assets to maximize our impact?” Unfortunately, over time, the question frequently devolves to simply: “Are we achieving good?” 

This is where my fellow board members and I at the Siemens Foundation found ourselves a few years ago: pleased with positive results from our STEM programming, but convinced we could do better. When we looked at the pressing issues of our time, we determined that income inequality and the declining economic opportunities available to working and middle class families was a lynchpin issue for the U.S.  We saw, as many Americans did then and most do today, that the social and political compact of our country – that hard work and perseverance will be rewarded with economic and social opportunity – was under serious pressure. 

We also saw we could do something about it.  It was clear to us that the foundation’s and the company’s leadership, employees, history, culture and expertise in STEM and middle skill job creation were tremendous assets in the effort to reestablish a more level playing field. In short, we looked to the intersection of societal needs, business assets capable of being leveraged for philanthropic good, and the Foundations’ rich history and influence in STEM education and youth in the belief that our ability to deliver the highest returns on our investments would be found there.

Today, we’re clear in our mission to ignite and sustain today’s STEM workforce and tomorrow’s scientists and engineers, and we’re delighted to partner with the Aspen Institute, the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, New America Foundation and the Department of Labor, among others  to accomplish our shared objectives. Working in tandem with these world-class organizations, my fellow board members and I are pleased the Foundation has become a recognized voice for STEM Middle-Skill education and workforce development today. 

It took some effort to get here, and it will take even more to get where we ultimately want to go. Fortunately, we have a board that understands and is motivated by our unique opportunity to serve and an incoming board chair, Siemens USA CEO, Judy Marks, who was a key player in the plan’s development, and committed to expanding ownership of it to Siemens employees and to the communities in which those employees live and work.

 As a former board chair and mentor said to me years ago following the approval of a new and ambitious strategic plan, “We have the vision, now we have to give it over to others so they can give it back to us.”