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Philanthropy, or just a "pay-off"?
Paul Holmes
Holmes Report
CEO

Philanthropy, or just a "pay-off"?

Paul Holmes

I have never been particularly fond of the idea that corporate philanthropy should be about “giving back.” The unavoidable implication of that phrase is that companies cannot conduct their business without taking something away from the society in which they operate. That means corporate largesse is at best some sort of apology, and at worst a pay-off. Truly responsible organizations start by asking whether they can do business without inflicting damage on the natural environment or on individuals impacted by their day-to-day activities. At the very least, they seem to minimize the harmful consequences of their business. If they can do that, their philanthropic activities are less about “giving back” and more about making a positive contribution to the lives of stakeholders. In this context, the donations made by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder through his new Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation—which will “provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities”—are at best a throwback to a less enlightened age, and at worst an insult. What is particularly astonishing about this move is that it openly acknowledges that the Redskins organization “owes” something to the Native American community as a result of the insult inherent in the team’s name. And yet it defiantly refuses to change its underlying behavior, as if buying a “license” to throw around its racist epithet with impunity. Chris Strauss is right when he writes that: “This entire thing seems like a tone-deaf billionaire throwing money and lip service at an issue and a people he didn’t care about until the voices of opposition recently started getting too loud for him to ignore.” This is a move so transparently cynical, it actually compounds the original offense. The backlash is justified and will hopefully ratchet up the pressure on the Snyder and the Redskins to do the right thing.
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