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The Future of Corporate Foundations Accelerate Community: A Report from CECP's First Meeting

By Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas and Michelle Bostwick, Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas is Managing Director, CECP; Michelle Bostwick is Senior Associate, Corporate Leadership

In CECP’s 2019 Giving in Numbers survey, roughly 80% of companies reported having a corporate foundation, and of those companies, the average number of foundations a company operated was 3. It is clear that companies view having their own corporate foundations as a fundamental component to their corporate responsibility strategies. We also know that CECP coalition companies are focused on capitalizing on the unique value that corporate foundations bring to social impact and community investment strategies. Just as the way that companies engage with society has evolved over time, moving from traditional philanthropy to business-aligned and strategic investments, the role of the corporate foundation has also adapted to these changing needs and expectations. Now more than ever, corporate responsibility professionals are seeking insights as to how to innovatively deploy their corporate foundations both to support and propel their social impact goals.

CECP’s newly launched Future of Corporate Foundations Accelerate Community is working to drive this conversation and bring clarity around the new role of the corporate foundation! Keeping in mind both strategic and tactical opportunities, the year-long community will discuss and develop meaningful insights on:

  • How to best frame corporate foundation programs and purpose within the larger corporation
    • How and should a company’s foundation programs be tightly aligned with the corporate mission
    • How the foundation’s work pushes boundaries and invests in areas aligned with or differently from the company’s community investment pillars
    • Other assets the company can contribute to the foundation for social good
  • How are corporate foundations innovating with different investment models, such as impact investing or industry and cause-related partnerships in order to create meaningful change at scale
  • How are corporate foundations working in collaboration both domestically and internationally
  • How a company can align its corporate foundation to its marketing and brand, and to employee engagement campaigns
  • How to navigate case law and legal issues surrounding investments to and from the corporate foundation.

Last month’s kick-off Accelerate Community meeting confirmed the strong experience and unique perspectives of this group. Representatives from the Fortune 500 companies of Allstate, AIG, BD, CarMax, Chubb, CenterPoint Energy, Kimberly Clark, PwC and USAA met to learn, connect, and think together. Two leading industry experts, Nick Hodges, COO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), and Brad Smith, President of Candid (merger of Foundation Center and Guidestar), shared opportunities in their work with corporate foundations. The group was impressed with RPA’s work in fiscal sponsorships of funder collaboratives, operating programs, and grants management with corporate foundations. Candid’s breadth of online tools, data insights, and knowledge on various partnerships was an eye-opening lens into the vast ways that research is done on, about, and for corporate foundations. The group also discussed current trends in the field, CECP research data, and best practices in developing strategy. The Accelerate Community participants also openly shared information, approaches, and challenges affecting their work today.

Using this initial community meeting to set the stage for future conversation and content development, we let discussion and group learning take center-stage. As expected, each company utilizes its corporate foundation in varied ways, from the foundation type (endowed, hybrid, passthrough, operating), to different degrees of business integration and alignment, to strategic alignment with the company (confetti to ecosystem change). Each company in the community had a different operating roadmap for their current foundation strategy.

Even with these differences, we saw many similarities in operations, strategy development, and fiscal management. These companies also recognize that the foundation purpose and structure is a guiding ‘north star’ and hub for enterprise-wide strategy, and a catalyst for individual employee giving. Each company decides the ultimate benefit of its corporate foundation and the degree of alignment with company purpose, goals and assets, however defined. This can be integrated within the company and/or its structure to push new areas of giving, impact and direction.

CECP is thankful to the members of the Future of Corporate Foundations Accelerate Community for their careful and thoughtful insights as we continue learning from one another and think through this new role of the corporate foundation. Over the next three meetings this year, we will assess more on how corporate foundations can strategically catalyze social change and how participants can evolve their models by sharing additional insights throughout the year!  

For more information on this Accelerate Community or others that CECP is currently leading, please contact Michelle Bostwick at and visit our website.