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Is Corporate Citizenship a Dying Concept?

By Jim Lynch, TechSoup

SOURCE: Symantec


The news website,, recently ran a piece by William Pfaff that makes the assumption that American corporations no longer have any citizen-like obligations to the American nation. It circulated within TechSoup and also among some of our corporate donor partners. We got some pretty strong reactions on whether corporate citizenship is a dying concept.

The article called “Corporate Citizenship a Dying Concept” talks about the results of a recent single question survey of American multinational corporations conducted by the nonprofit, Remapping Debate. Their question was pretty simple “whether American multinational corporations have national obligations, and if so, what those obligations are.”

Remapping Debate contacted the representatives of more than 80 corporations. Most had no comment. Among the 15 corporate representatives who did comment, most were unwilling to say that their corporation had any obligations to the United States, let alone to define any such obligations with specificity. Representatives of some American multinationals said that their companies do not even identify themselves as being American in any sense except that they are legally incorporated and physically headquartered in one of the states of the U.S.

William Pfaff in his meditation on these findings offers plausible reasons for the death of corporate citizenship like globalization of business and production, opportunities for tax minimization as Apple famously took advantage of recently, and the shift of corporate control from owners to opportunistic professional management.

What Our Donor Partners Say

At TechSoup when we asked some of our donor partners about the state of corporate citizenship we got a very different picture.

Here is what Cecily Joseph, Sr. Director of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec had to say:

“We are a company whose mission is to protect and manage information, therein making our business goals tied to a greater social purpose. Our success depends upon our ability to help people, businesses and governments secure their information in today’s complex digital world. In FY13 alone, we donated more than $24 million in cash and software to organizations worldwide, demonstrating our continued commitment to our nonprofit partners and philanthropic initiatives. Our employees collectively logged more than 25,000 volunteer hours, going above and beyond to illustrate their personal commitment to engage with causes that are meaningful to them. It’s through supporting our non-profit partners, fostering our employees’ commitment to a spirit of volunteerism and linking our business goals to the greater social purpose of helping and protecting people online, that we demonstrate each day how corporate responsibility is not simply something we do – it’s an authentic part of who we are.”

Brittany Lothe, SAP's Director of Global of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) had a very thoughtful response as well. A sense of corporate citizenship is special quality that must be embedded in the culture and even the DNA of a company.

"The concepts of CSR are evolving and becoming more sophisticated with smart companies aligning initiatives to support business, operational and talent goals. For a company like SAP, this means focusing funding, leveraging our talent and incorporating technology into our investment strategy to enhance education for underserved youth and propel emerging entrepreneurs to foster sustainable economic growth and support the long term growth and prosperity of our company. So is corporate citizenship a dying concept? Sure. If it’s not aligned and embedded to the DNA of a company and addressing a core societal need. But I would say it’s necessary component to identifying innovative solutions to the world’s most complex challenges. In essence, no one actor can do it alone – non-profit, private sector, governments and an active citizenry must work together to create positive social change."

TechSoup's Perspective

TechSoup Global’s Chief Business Development Officer, Gayle Samuelson Carpentier, who has been working closely with our corporate donor partners over the last dozen years, maintains that there is a tremendous energy and appetite within many firms to contribute to the well-being of society on multiple levels. I’ll just let her sum it up in her own words on whether or not corporate citizenship a dying concept based on our experience.

“Our partner corporations collectively have contributed 11.4 million donated goods and services to nonprofits around the world, with a market value of nearly $4 billion.  So where Mr. Pfaff assumes that a reluctance on the part of corporations to answer a politically loaded question as noted in his article, 'The question asked was whether as corporations they possessed citizen-like obligations to the American nation. Most refused to answer' means they lack corporate citizenship. Our direct experience here at TechSoup Global confirms a solid willingness and dedication to these selfsame corporations being active and solid citizens.

In fact one of the most intriguing realities about TechSoup donation services, is how very personally corporations take this responsibility.  If these programs were merely simple CSR or PR efforts, our partners would never invest the time, staff and resources to make these efforts as deeply unique and personal as they are for each company. I know this, because I’ve directly worked with each of our partners, and have helped the vast majority of them develop and grow philanthropy programs that reflect their own goals and areas of social impact.

Maybe it’s just the perspective that comes from seeing these donations make a massive difference around the world, but even on the toughest days, I cannot agree with Mr. Pfaff. The reality of major corporations giving back is too well documented to be disputed. Certainly it’s reasonable to not respond publicly to a question that is open to such immense interpretation, but what isn’t reasonable is to take that lack of public response and turn it into a condemnation of corporate citizenship.”

I guess you could say that on the topic of whether corporate citizenship is dying, we couldn’t disagree more.

Image: Shutterstock

Tweet me: Corporate citizenship is alive and well, says @TechSoup; @Symantec's Cecily Joseph agrees: #SymantecCR #CSR

KEYWORDS: Corporate Social Responsibility, Philanthropy, People, Social Action & Community Engagement, Social Change, Social Actions, Symantec CR, TechSoup, Cecily Joseph, Social Purpose

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