There was an interesting debate on the BBC World Service this week about the difference between a charity and a nit for profit company and the morality or otherwise of large businesses supporting them.
Corporate Social Responsibility should mean just that. While businesses employ people in addition it is 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 specialist construction workers to help on the project.
In another instance HCSS Education 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 HCSS 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.
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, to bring sport into 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 a 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 away shoes at will.
What they do is offer resources that Marathon Kids manifestly do not have such as branding and marketing especially when a club is being started in a new location.
The question in at what point does 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.
Let’s get the question of morality out of the way. If an individual or company wishes to donate to good causes in either cash or resource then they are to be congratulated not derided. If it does some good to the organisation and makes the donor feel good then so what? It is a win-win situation.
I am both Jewish and a Freemason and 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 donor to charity in the UK after the National Lottery.
The giving of 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.
However, Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, says that the only real way to give charity is anonymously so that nobody knows what you have done and the only personal gain is your own feeling of satisfaction.
That is quite a thought.
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