I'm trying to find out more about jobs in corporate philanthropy / corporate social responsibility. Help?
December 13, 2010 5:41 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find out more about jobs in corporate philanthropy / corporate social responsibility. Help?

So, I'm asking this for my younger sister who is on the cusp of losing her job - she doesn't use mefi so I figured I'd ask! She is mid 20s, works in entertainment sales/marketing, and the company she's been working for loves her, but they're going under. It's pretty apparent that she's going to be unemployed in early 2011 so she's looking for something new.

She wants to make a switch to working in "corporate philanthropy". When I asked her what she meant by that she said she would be interested in working for a big company who has an department devoted to putting money towards social causes. She doesn't want to work at a nonprofit, but wants to work somewhere corporate "like Google" (in her words). I saw that Google has "google.org" which seems to do this, but my question for you folks is - do companies do this? Are there actual jobs in this field? Do you need an MBA for said jobs?

Any insight is much appreciated as I know nothing about this world (and really, neither does she). Thanks!
posted by emily37 to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For what it's worth, most people working at Google.org have MBAs, PhDs or are engineers working in one of the areas that the org is involved with, like renewable energy. But I have no idea about other similar orgs.
posted by GuyZero at 5:58 PM on December 13, 2010

IME, the people that work in CSR already worked at the organization in a regular capacity but has an interest in the environment or something and it morphed into CSR.

There are downsides to being in CSR. Some orgs are just greenwashing or nodding to women's rights. Others walk the walk.

Perhaps now people get MBAs for this..
posted by k8t at 5:59 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know several people who work at Google.org. They were all either internal hires from other divisions at Google, or they had previous experience specific to the type of philanthropy they now work on (relevant subject area expertise or non-profit management experience). So, it seems that the answer to your question is to get a job working at a company you'd like to work for, or get a job working in the field you'd like to work in no matter where it is, and then you'll have the experience that a corporate philanthropy outfit might be looking for.
posted by decathecting at 6:06 PM on December 13, 2010

Any insight is much appreciated as I know nothing about this world (and really, neither does she).

A good starting place for her to learn about CSR in general is The Market For Virtue: The Potential and Limits of Corporate Social Responsibility by David Vogel. Faith and Fortune by Mark Gunther might also give her some ideas.

You don't have to have an MBA just to work in CSR!

She might want to think first about the *kind* of social issues she is interested in. One example: worker's rights and labor conditions. Nike, for example, has been really taken a pummelling on its CSR record wrt this/other issues in the past. They've actually begun to do quite a bit of work in response. You can read about their efforts here. I think reading their CSR report will be worthwhile for your sister to see the range of things one company can do. She should also google "CSR success stories" for ideas on possible companies/industries to work for.
posted by Ashley801 at 6:14 PM on December 13, 2010

Yeah, Nthing others that this is not at all a career move that people make from a nil position- CSR jobs are highly competitive, being filled with internal candidates with the org knowledge and skills/connections to make the job work, or people with _extensive_ non-profit/NGO experience that are typically looking for more renumeration/stability than the NGO sector can provide.

Unless your sister fits into one of these categories, it will be extremely difficult for her to break into one of these roles, unless she has some other extremely specific skillset a company in question is looking for, which it really doesn't sound like she has. I mean, seriously, these are like the golden ticket of corp jobs: they are rare, much-valued, and have a low turnover compared to other corporate jobs.

You do not - at least not in Australia - need an MBA for these jobs; they couldn't care less about an MBA. You do need _lots_ of experience and a rock solid CSR/NGO/Volunteering-at-a-high-level-not-envelope-stuffing track record.

Better for her to focus on roles or actions that will set her up for being competitive in one of these positions, because at the moment I'm afraid to say from what you've written here she definitely isn't.

This means she has two routes:

1. Start working, doing what she's doing for an NGO, peak body, advocacy group or charity. Great experience, lots of autonomy and responsibility, terrible pay, and you can work with some real "characters".

2. Try to get a non-CSR job with a company that does lots of CSR, CSR that appears to be growing and is - importantly - diverse. And start to try to move laterally once inside by volunteering both inside and outside the company, taking on "stretch" CSR projects etc. This is the kind of career move that will take a few years of planning and working, sorry to sound like such a debbie downer. It's definitely possible, though, but not right now.
posted by smoke at 6:18 PM on December 13, 2010

Corporate giving is often done out of a company's marketing department. Larger companies will have an annual budget for giving, and they will sponsor events that nonprofits put on, give cash donations, and/or give in-kind donations (actual products). Your sister can look around at different websites to see what kind of corporate/community giving different companies do.
posted by headnsouth at 6:23 PM on December 13, 2010

Corporate philanthropy is one aspect of corporate social responsibility.

Like other types of philanthropy, it's a great gig if you can get it, but it's hard to get it. Everyone likes giving money away!

As for the broader field of CSR, there are two sides to it. You can work inside a corporation implementing, defending, and promoting their CSR program. You can also work outside a corporation, in one of the many organizations that pressure companies to act responsibly. I did the latter for a few years, and it was among the most satisfying jobs I've every had. It didn't pay well, but there were other rewards.

It sounds like your sister is more interested in the inside track, though. To get a sense of some of what that entails, she could read the sustainability reports that are becoming an increasingly common part of corporate marketing. Following are some links to typical sustainability reports (most of these are PDFs):
Coca-Cola 2009/2010 Sustainability Review
Dupont 2010 Sustainability Progress Report
BP 2009 Sustainability Review
Dell 2007 Sustainability Report
Nike Corporate Responsibility Report 2007-2008-2009
McDonald's 2009 CR Report
If your sister is still interested after reading these, she could look for the CSR reports of some local corporations, find the names of the CSR officers, and try to get some informational interviews. I worked with a lot of these people in adversarial circumstances and I was generally struck by how friendly they were.
posted by alms at 8:04 PM on December 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

alms, can I ask where you worked, or can I get an example of that type of company?
posted by emily37 at 8:20 PM on December 13, 2010

Where does your sister live? Look up major corporations in that area or which have major facilities in that area. Google "companyname giving" and you should get their foundation/corporate giving arm.
posted by desuetude at 11:02 PM on December 13, 2010

Yes, there are such jobs. Problem is, as other people have pointed out, they are highly sought after and come up only once in a blue moon.

I work in philanthropy (albeit in Australia, not in the US) and I get a phone call perhaps once a fortnight from "corporate refugees" who want to work in philanthropy. For a lot of disillusioned people it seems like a nice way to work in a corporate environment but feel as if you're doing some good in the world. In my experience though, the majority of people who fill those positions are either sourced internally from another part of the company, or they have extensive experience in philanthropy or the nonprofit sector. Your sister would be more likely to get into this field either through getting into a big corporate with a giving program and then moving across, or else working in the nonprofit sector for a while. Believe it or not, some positions in nonprofits can be far more fulfilling and she'd be getting some great experience in how the sector works.

A couple of things to keep in mind, too: philanthropy is immensely rewarding but also has a lot of really fussy and detailed research and paperwork. Unless the company specialises in funding just one or two fields, or she gets a job where she can be program manager for just one program area, she's going to have to be able to keep across a lot of sectors (education, health, disability, environment, etc) and their major issues and players. She needs to have some really good research skills and to know about how nonprofits operate.

And what I hear from people who work in corporate foundations (usually after they've left!) is that it can be quite lonely and disillusioning in its own way, and there's sometimes a lack of respect internally. Most people in the company don't understand what the philanthropic side does and think "we make the money, you just spend it". Admittedly that will vary according to the corporate culture.

There are some good introductory resources at the Foundation Center, mostly aimed at people seeking funds but they do have things like a list of largest corporate grantmakers. The Council on Foundations is the peak body in the US and its corporate philanthropy section, although some of it is members-only, has a decent FAQ aimed at beginners as well as lots of jumping-off places for further resoures.
posted by andraste at 3:14 AM on December 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

emily37, I was a shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management, an environmentally-focused mutual fund company. As a shareholder advocate my job was to identify areas where companies should improve their environmental performance and then use a variety of tactics to get them to make those improvements. Corporations as a rule were not happy to get a letter from me. It generally meant that they had six months or a year or a few years of work ahead of them dealing with the issues I raised either by doing enough to satisfy me and my coalition allies or by pushing back hard enough to convince me that my efforts were futile.

I worked on environmental issues, but shareholder advocates cover a wide range of issues including workplace rights, non-discrimination policies, etc. Shareholder advocates have the ability to formally raise issues with a corporation, potentially embarrass them publicly, etc. That's our leverage. There are probably about a dozen investment companies, one or two non-profits, and a number of religious orders that comprise this community. State pension funds also engage in shareholder advocacy. Two of the largest groups coordinating efforts are Ceres and ICCR.

Moving beyond shareholders, there are a large number of non-profits who engage in corporate activism. Theses include Rainforest Action Network (link to an excellent Fortune article about them from 2004), Friends of the Earth, the Cornucopia Institute, Dogwood Alliance, Corporate Ethics International, etc. These groups tend to be very in-your-face and confrontational, which doesn't strike me as your sister's style.

On the shareholder advocacy side, jobs are hard to come by but they are also hard to fill. When I was leaving it took over six months to find my replacement. This was partly because of the low salary, but it was also difficult to find someone who could strike the right balance between polite engagement and confrontation. The work's not for everyone. The people who do it, though, tend to very much enjoy it.
posted by alms at 5:52 AM on December 14, 2010

Interestingly enough, I have been getting a lot of similar requests lately. I work at a corporate foundation (just started last month) and I can tell you right off the bat that it is no easy thing getting a job within any foundation. Foundations tend to be small and very picky with the hiring. They prefer either someone who has some philanthropic experience or has a wealth of knowledge and background in a particular focus area (cushy job for retiring activists, researchers or professors) or has a stellar connection. To give you some idea of a career trajectory to get started in foundation work, I started off working in government. I did some community grant-making while working for a politician and decided to move into philanthropy. I applied to a community foundation as a coordinator, got the job and moved up from there. I find that these jobs are not easily accessible and rarely do positions open up. When they do, we are bombarded by resumes and go through quite a hiring process.
posted by ichimunki at 7:42 PM on January 24, 2011

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