There was an interesting debate on the BBC World Service recently about the difference between a charity and a Not for Profit company and the morality or otherwise of large businesses supporting them.
Corporate Social Responsibility should mean just that. While businesses employ people and so give them a living it is also good to feel a responsibility for the local community in some tangible way.
Several of the members of my Vistage CEO peer group are actively involved in their local communities and that is admirable.
For example, the Casey Group of Companies, a major construction company in Rochdale, helped on a BBC TV programme which was renovating a whole street for disabled service personnel by allocating construction specialists to work on the project.
In another instance alumnus The School Bus in Macclesfield have instituted a charity, The School Bus Foundation devoted to assisting disadvantaged children and they raise funds through events and donations.
The Casey Group example is typical of businesses offering resources to assist in a community project while The School Bus have gone directly to the charity sector and both are equally laudable.
In both cases, by the way, these are symptomatic and represent a wide range of activities by both companies. Other Vistage members like the 144 years established
Alfred Bagnall and Sons have a wide range of activities designed to benefit local communities.
My interest was sparked by the radio programme which discussed the relationship between a Not for Profit company, Marathon Kids in Austin, Texas and sports goods manufacturer Nike.
Marathon Kids was set up to encourage young children to take up running for good health, for a level of sport in their lives and above all for fun.
There was some dis quiet in the programme at the thought of Nike "moving in" to what seemed to be a perfect opportunity for some heavy marketing which was looked on as being of dubious morality. However nothing could be further from the truth.
The only mention of Nike on the Marathon Kids website is that Nike rewards are given to competitors who achieve distance milestones.
In fact Nike do not give money to Marathon Kids and they do not give shoes at will.
What they do is offer resources that Marathon Kids manifestly do not have such as branding and marketing advice especially when a club is being started in a new location.
The question is at what point does a large company involvement in "good works" become self seeking, if at all?
There are after all many wealthy individuals who are extremely philanthropic and they do it because they consider it the right thing to do rather than looking for any gain.
When a company does it and perhaps makes a fuss about it there can be a suspicion that there may just be an ulterior motive.
I am both Jewish and a Freemason and I realise that both have charity at the heart of what they are.
For example a core prayer at the Jewish New Year mentions Penitence, Prayer and Charity as being central to the whole ethos of the religion.
The very basis of Freemasonry lists Brotherly Love, Relief and Truth where Relief is a synonym for charity. It should be mentioned, by the way, that Freemasonry is the second largest contributor to charity in the UK after the National Lottery.
Nobody mentions gain after giving charity in either case so there is no question of morality whereas large companies donating noisily may be accused of doing it for gain.
True or false, giving charity either in cash or kind is essential to keep many social organisations in business and if it does good then that is wonderful. For example, the Air Ambulance Service could not exist without donations from many individuals and organisations.
Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, says that the only way to give charity is anonymously so that nobody knows what you have done and the only gain is a feeling of satisfaction by doing the right thing.
Quite a thought.
Visit the Vistage UK