Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Strategic Philanthropy: Creating Impact with Intention

Stuart Danforth, who spoke at the Association's quarterly event on May 21st, is certainly a creative strategist intent on making a difference. Stuart is a 3d generation owner of a family business
dating back to the 1930s that specializes in financial planning and investment advice. A strategist, trained psychologist and a social
scientist, Stuart's interest in how organizations behave in their
communities focuses, in particular, on the value that businesses can find in strategic philanthropy. He is also committed to maintaining a spirit of vitality and innovation at his company.

Stuart defines strategic philanthropy as “charitable giving with a deliberate targeted objective.” Elaborating on ideas that he has presented and written about in a number of venues, Danforth used his own firm as an example to set forth a five step model for integrating a philanthropic orientation seamlessly into the very fabric of the enterprise:
  1. Create a program mission: “It doesn’t really matter what the parameters are. I chose community arts, education, and ethics because these are important to me. The mission has to come from the Top. I want to build the creative economy in Boston’s Metro West. It’s definitely good for business. The philanthropic mission sets creativity in motion throughout the firm.”
  2. Identify resources—financial, time, and skill. Stuart’s program emphasizes the personal linkage between internal champions and the recipients of the philanthropic effort, whether that be financial or technical or some combination of the two. Demonstrating what may be an unusually strong commitment to his principles, Danforth Associates funds its philanthropic activities regardless of the firm’s income achievement. It is the sort of value-in-action that attracts talented people to the firm.
  3. Establish a committee to make philanthropic decisions. “This is a culture builder and a lot of fun. It states what you as an organization and you as a person are about.” Thirteen of the eighteen grants given by Danforth Associates were vetted by the members of this committee.
  4. Dynamic execution. Stuart advised the recipients of corporate philanthropy, a number of whom were in attendance at the event, to invite corporations into your organization as partners, make them part of the plan.
  5. Learn, review, and revise.
While strategic philanthropy is certainly “about the money,” Danforth was adamant in asserting that it absolutely wasn’t only about the money: “It’s about sharing knowledge and expertise. What knowledge and skills do we have and how do we bring them to our community partners?…Strategic philanthropy presents small and mid-sized firms have a unique opportunity at this point in time. It is my view that many large corporations are abandoning philanthropy, creating a vacuum that smaller firms can occupy.”

As a specific example, Stuart described his intimate involvement in a major art show by George Nick, a notable Massachusetts’s-based artist, which took place at the Danforth Museum in Framingham, the sort of creative economy institution that Stuart is so supportive of [NB: Several hundred years ago, a Danforth provided the land that became Framingham. Stuart Danforth did not found the museum.]. The show was a success for all concerned, and not the least for Danforth Associates, which held a number of events in conjunction with the event. “It was an off-campus office….Through strategic philanthropy, we are known as being involved in the community, and we are increasingly connected to the creative class.”

We also want to note that the ASP was delighted to receive an invitation to hold this meeting at Boston College under the auspices of the College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship. The Center promotes a full range of educational and advisory services to corporations world-wide who are serious about community involvement and corporate responsibility, including courses and publications in the field of strategic philanthropy.

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