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Corporations Need To Step-Up Their Charitable Game: Ken Stern In <em>Slate</em>
Social Change | August 09, 2013

Corporations Need To Step-Up Their Charitable Game: Ken Stern In Slate

"In an age when corporations have acquired more and more basic rights of citizens," Ken Stern writes in Slate, "[such as] the right to own property, the right to sue and be sued, the right to be free of unreasonable search and seizures, the right to free speech, the right to engage in the political process—it is fair to look to them to accept more of the basic responsibilities of citizenship as well." The influx of public branding showcasing the donations of big corporations would lead us to believe they've been doing just that. Stern, a social change speaker, says they haven't. Corporate charitable donations dropped to a low of 0.8 percent in 2012 (based on percentage of pretax profits). Over the last 10 years, the percentage of their contributions has decreased by half.

"Given the scale of American business, it is surprising how small a role corporations play in charitable giving in the U.S.," he also writes, "now comprising only about 6 percent of private-sector donations and only a little more than 1 percent of the $1.5 trillion charitable economy." Stern, who's the author of With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, stresses that donations have increased over time. Overall, the corporate sector donated $18 billion to charitable causes last year. However, the percentage of giving in relation to profit—what Stern says is "the best measure of relative generosity"—has drastically decreased. You may be thinking that $18 billion seems like a lot. That's until you consider that one individual corporation making $45 billion in profits is only donating around $2 million—which is not overly generous, after all.

On average, the lower-grossing companies are the ones donating the most, percentage-wise, as well. As Stern says, this is reflective of individual donation patterns, too. "In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity," he wrote in a piece for The Atlantic. "By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income." As Stern argued in response to this TIME article, simply giving isn't enough. What you give, and how you give, is equally as important. Overall, he says Americans are fairly generous with their money—but there's still lots of room for improvement.


Stern is the President and CEO of Palisades Media, where he focuses on creating new and innovative programming models for digital platforms and for television. In his engaging talks, he shows us how to give more effectively. And, how to help America's floundering charities to put those donations to better use. To book Ken Stern for your next event, contact The Lavin Agency Speakers Bureau.
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