Is it naïve to believe that the practice of giving back can genuinely take root in the ruthless modern world of business?
As well as having the pleasure of experiencing this clean, friendly, green, environmentally conscious city for the first time, a trip to Minneapolis this week reminded me that giving back is not a new concept. In fact, doing good to do good business is as old as business itself.
Take Target as an example. The retailer is in its 50th year in its current format, having emerged from the vision of a traditional retail pioneer called George D. Dayton, a New York banker and real estate investor who migrated to Minneapolis in the early 1900s for his next venture: the Dayton Dry Goods Company, based on his founding principle of “the higher ground of stewardship.”
In 1946, the Dayton Company established its policy of giving back 5% of pretax profits to the communities that its stores are a part of - a policy still in existence today. In 1962, Dayton's Target bull's-eye was born, a new chain of discount stores. And by 2007, the company was giving $3 million a week to local communities across education, arts, social services, and volunteering.
Under its Take Charge of Education initiative, since 1997 the now Target Corporation has donated over $320 million to American schools. Its goal is to give $1 billion to education by 2015.
The Dayton name disappeared from the retailer in 2000, but the family's principles are still a driving force behind the philosophy of Target's business.
But before you all proclaim that I've drunk the Target Kool-Aid, very persuasively promoted by the retailer's VP of communications Dustee Tucker Jenkins by the way, it's worth noting that the tradition of corporate philanthropy has strong roots across the board in the Minnesota business community.
Other companies in the Twin Cities area, such as General Mills, Cargill (founder William Wallace Cargill's motto was “Our word is our bond”), and Best Buy, also have a strong history of corporate giving – more importantly, giving that is targeted in such a way as to benefit the communities in which its businesses operate.
It speaks to the points Harold Burson was making in his recent Paladin Award acceptance speech about the need for a return consensual capitalism.
Target has had its challenges in recent years, and Best Buy is having them now, to put it mildly. No big corporation is ever going to be completely immune to malpractice or ill-advised actions, but a strong stake within communities and with its employees will help them through tough times when they inevitably do happen.