One of the most promising developments in the philanthropic sector over the last few years has been this: the corporate sector is becoming bolder and more intentional in its philanthropy. Not too long ago, the norm for corporate social responsibility was an act of “checking the box” or simply seeking good PR to drive reputation and/or sales. Consumers deserve much of the credit for this laudable shift, as the mainstream public increasingly expects businesses to take more responsible and impactful roles in addressing pressing issues of our time. Increasingly, corporates are leaning toward ambitious, systems-changing impact objectives—also known as moonshots—and innovative approaches to make a difference. 

The Milken Institute’s latest report highlights current trends and strategies among corporate funders. While the report features many notable examples of corporate philanthropy, individual and family philanthropists could benefit from learning about others who are using particularly creative models to drive transformative change on a large scale. 

  • Climate / / Philanthropic Prizes hosts “Impact Challenges,” or philanthropic prize competitions, to crowdsource innovative ideas to address a variety of pressing societal and environmental issues. In 2022, committed $30 million to an Impact Challenge that supports efforts advancing technology in climate information and action. Beyond the financial prize, winners also receive access to Google’s products and professional experts to support their endeavors. These
  • Child Development / LEGO Foundation / Accelerator Program The LEGO Foundation champions child development in many ways, but its Learning Through Play Accelerator program is distinct. With an emphasis on supporting neurodivergent children, the LEGO Foundation is directing $20 million to up to 25 start-ups, nonprofits, and social enterprises that offer products and services to kids with autism or ADHD and their families. The LEGO Foundation also provides mentorship to finalists and opportunities for follow-on funding. 
  • Workforce Development for the Formerly Incarcerated / Slack / Job Training & Hiring + Corporate Cultural Change Societal systems do not currently provide sufficient long-term support for marginalized populations, including those formerly incarcerated. Finding stable jobs, let alone a fulfilling career path, is a frequent challenge for this population segment. Some corporations have directed attention and resources in support of this cause. For instance, the technology company Slack is walking the walk by offering formerly incarcerated individuals job training and mentorship, with the potential to be hired as a part of its professional workforce.  Fostering a welcoming company culture is a key aspect of this endeavor’s success, in addition to job retention for these individuals. By 2022, Slack had successfully placed 30 individuals in its workforce, and the organization is continuing its efforts and recruiting other companies to scale this approach. Slack has since developed a playbook for other corporations interested in diversifying their workplace with this historically underserved and underrepresented population. Slack’s initial partnership with W.K. Kellogg Foundation and nonprofits with on-the-ground experience with the formerly incarcerated to pilot this endeavor has since formalized into an effort called Next Chapter, which aims to replicate this approach across other technology companies and scale its impact.
  • Affordable Housing / JPMorgan Chase / Impact Investing As part of a $400 million five-year commitment, JPMorgan Chase has deployed over $224 million to promote housing stability and improve homeownership opportunities in underserved populations since 2021. Investing in low-cost loans, equity investments, and grants to more than 150 organizations across the United States, the firm has taken active steps to address the housing affordability gap in underserved communities, particularly Black and Latinx households, that have historically faced greater barriers to homeownership. By leveraging their philanthropic resources, JPMorgan Chase makes a significant impact in reducing disparities and increasing access to affordable housing for vulnerable populations.

How Collaboration Can Embolden Corporate Philanthropy

Even with moonshot-scale impact objectives and the innovative approaches companies use to make a difference, more collaboration across the sector and with the communities corporate philanthropists intend to serve is urgently needed. Traditionally, corporate philanthropies have operated in isolation, limiting the potential for shared learning and collaboration. Fostering a culture of collaboration, openness to innovation, and a commitment to learning from both successes and failures can contribute to a more dynamic, adaptive, and impactful corporate philanthropy sector. The avenues for this exist—and must be utilized more widely because the exchange of ideas, best practices, insights, and lessons learned can inspire new—and ever more—effective philanthropic initiatives to address social and environmental challenges.

The examples highlighted above indicate a positive trend toward businesses becoming more engaged in addressing critical social and environmental issues, and they align with a broader movement toward sustainability, social responsibility, and the pursuit of ideal-driven impact objectives. It's a sign that companies, too, are recognizing their role in creating a better and more equitable world.

Learn more about promising trends and tactics from the Milken Institute’s report, Corporate Philanthropy: Emerging Strategies for Lasting Impact