A new look at some strange animals

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Companies worldwide have created organizations designed to make a positive social difference beyond daily business. Our Foundation is one of them. These organizations are increasingly attracting the attention of academic research. 

”Corporate foundations are strange animals”, say Steffen Bethmann and Georg von Schnurbein. As experts at Basel’s Center for Philanthropy Studies (CEPS), they are well placed to judge. They also acknowledge, in the words of their new book on the subject, that “in academia, little is known about these vehicles”. Bethmann, von Schnurbein and their Dutch co-editors are keen to fill this gap. Thanks to them and others, a lot of interesting research continues in the field. This new compendium presents a very informative cross-section. 

The “Handbook on Corporate Foundation” (mysteriously printed in the singular) covers a wide range of topics in its 300 pages. Some are to be expected: European and U.S. corporate foundations, volunteering, challenges in governance, and relationships with NGO’s. Other topics and terms will be less familiar to many readers: Chinese corporate foundations and ‘civil society’, their Russian counterparts, ‘outsourcing of giving’ or political aspects of company philanthropy. The handbook aims, say the editors, “to deliver a holistic analysis of the current state of the art”. It is certainly the most comprehensive recent English publication on the subject. 

As with any book with that level of ambition, there are holes waiting to be picked. The impressive list of contributors is essentially composed of academics. Employees of corporate foundations, or representatives of their founders, seem not to have made the cut. Nor do beneficiaries. The wording sometimes sounds a little strange (e.g. “the galaxy of corporate foundations is not in the core of both practical appearance…”). One might expect a ‘handbook’ to present certain practical topics in greater detail. Some chapter authors freely admit that their data are fairly thin in places. But overall the editors deserve great credit for pulling together an excellent publication. For anyone interested in the (fascinating!) subject of corporate philanthropy, there are many worse ways of spending $100*…

Handbook on Corporate Foundation(s), Roza/Bethmann/Meijs/von Schnurbein (Eds.), Springer Nature 2020, ISBN 978-3-030-25758-3 or eBook […]59-0.  Further info.

*For those with less money and/or reading time, or wishing additionally to see a foundation’s own perspective, we also recommend our 2017 paper, “The best of both worlds: business, philanthropy and business-like philanthropy”.