Philanthropy in the recession

On January 13, I attended a panel hosted by the Columbia University Business School Alumni Club and Weber Shandwick Voiceboxx about how philanthropic organizations are...

On January 13, I attended a panel hosted by the Columbia University Business School Alumni Club and Weber Shandwick Voiceboxx about how philanthropic organizations are addressing the recession. Weber Shandwick CEO Harris Diamond introduced the panel, which was moderated by Mike Spector, the philanthropy reporter for the Wall Street Journal. More about the event after the jump.

"All of us recognize that this is a unique moment in time," Diamond said, emphasizing the passion that Weber has for philanthropic initiatives. Panelists were James Whaley, president of the Siemens Foundation and senior director of corporate affairs for Siemens Corporation; Daniel Osheyack, VP of philanthropic initiatives for Time Warner; Sonya locket, VP of public affairs for BET; and Raymond Fisman, Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise at Columbia Business School.

The conversation touched on how corporations are handling their donations during such a difficult time and what nonprofits can do to stand out among the struggling organizations.

"What we've done is not change our mission, just refocus," Osheyack said, noting that Time Warner doesn't want to stretch too thin with its giving and has been donating to fewer groups.

"We give dollars, especially locally, but we really encourage actually working on the ground with these organizations," Lockett said. That was another topic discussed, especially as it relates to younger generations that are more in-tune with volunteering.

"It's very important to have a volunteer aspect to any philanthropic initiative," Whaley said. "The folks who are 30 and under are asking upfront 'How can I get involved?'"

But nonprofits and philanthropic organizations should not try to change, simply to keep the dollars coming in, Fisman said. He said he's seen several arts organizations try to pitch themselves as service organizations to possible donors.

"You're giving to a soup kitchen [in these times], not the Metropolitan Museum of Art," he said. "But that doesn't mean the Metropolitan Museum of Art should be retrofitted as a soup kitchen."

The conversation, including a Q&A session, also touched on topics such as how Obama's influence in fundraising and community service will affect philanthropy going forward, how smaller nonprofits are working together to have a bigger impact, the business side of philanthropy and donation, and the top objectives of a corporation's philanthropic goals.

Voiceboxx is a division of Weber Shandwick that builds a company's corporate reputation speaking venues and customized events.

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