Back in the day, Bear Stearns required its Senior Managing Directors to donate at least 4% of their annual earnings to charities of their choosing. For a firm known for its rough-and-tumble culture, it seemed somewhat ironic, but I always found this to be a truly admirable policy and one which numerous not-for-profit organizations in New York and around the globe benefited from handsomely. As someone that recruited senior professionals to Bear Stearns for several years, I enjoyed revealing this directive to prospective senior-level candidates, many of whom viewed this requirement as a value they could unequivocally support. Unfortunately, when Bear fell victim to the Global Financial Crisis, this policy fell by the wayside.
Many Fortune 500 companies promote corporate philanthropy and encourage their employees to donate time, products and services or money, and in many cases, companies will match contributions up to a certain level. In fact, corporate philanthropy in the United States surpassed $20 billion in 2018, but of a total pool of $427 billion donated in America in 2018 (according to the National Philanthropic Trust), this amount was dwarfed by the giving levels of individuals, foundations, and bequests. In a world where many cultural institutions are fighting for survival, poverty rates are climbing, access to education is a barrier for many, and medical research is imperative to eradicating diseases, philanthropy makes a considerable difference in the quality of life for virtually everyone. Corporate giving should be a larger piece of the philanthropy pie, and I would advocate that charitable giving doesn’t have to be just for the largest companies but should be part of the DNA of all companies, irrespective of scale. Those companies with well-articulated missions and cultures that include philanthropy will be better positioned to attract strong talent and customers, particularly as more millennials enter corporate America and become larger consumers.
In 2017, my partners and I joined Pledge 1%, an organization (or a “movement” as it is referred to) that works with companies of all sizes and stages on rolling out a giving plan within their organizations. With the help of the Pledge 1% team, we have established a process by which Jamesbeck donates 1% of its annual profits and 1% of its time, a decision which was applauded by our staff, particularly our millennials, who were proud to be associated with a firm that had philanthropy as a core tenet of its sense of purpose. While we could have left it up to our partners to select those charities to which we would donate, we decided to make this decision a firm-wide exercise. Every person in our firm selects a not-for-profit organization to allocate his/her dollars to; last year, we supported such organizations as: Lions Club International; Pulmonary Fibrosis; Electronic Frontier Foundation; San Francisco Homeless Prenatal; Center For Employment Opportunities (“CEO”); Guide Dogs for the Blind; Restorative Justice Initiative; Educational Alliance; Bay Area Discovery Museum; St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital; Everytown for Gun Safety; and Stepping Stones Foundation. In addition to our collective giving, we come together as a group for an afternoon of service which precedes our company holiday dinner. Last December, our Jamesbeck team spent the morning downtown at CEO where each of us worked with former prisoners on helping them write their resumes so they could find stable employment and re-enter society. We will be back at CEO this month, this time coaching CEO’s participants on interviewing and honing their presentation skills.
This holiday season bring the gift of philanthropy into your organization. It is good business and a strong value that all companies should embrace.