The once sleepy world of corporate philanthropy has been perking up lately. An older model of giving—which often involved cutting lots of checks to local charities without asking many questions—is giving way to a more focused and strategic approach. Many businesses are now looking to tap the full range of their assets to make a measurable impact on a specific set of problems.
A case in point is JPMorgan Chase, which has dramatically shifted its giving over recent years. That shift explains the two large, high-profile investments in urban areas that it has announced in the past month—a $40 million commitment in Chicago and a $10 million effort in Washington, D.C. In turn, these initiatives build on JPMorgan’s $150 million investment in Detroit, starting in 2014, and reflect sweeping changes in the bank’s philanthropic strategy that were set in motion five years ago.
Lots of Bucks, Little Bang
The bank’s move to a new approach began in 2012, when CEO Jamie Dimon asked for a review of company grantmaking—which was then running at about $200 million a year. Dimon didn’t feel that all this money was being spent very wisely or strategically. And he was right.
“If you looked at what we were doing at the time, we were a mile wide and an inch deep,” says Peter Scher, who is global head of corporate responsibility at JPMorgan Chase. While the bank did have a philanthropic strategy with key focus areas, most of its grantmaking didn’t support that strategy. Lots of money was going to different places, says Scher, often tied to executives’ personal interests, and “there was never really a sense of, ‘are you moving the needle?’”
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