Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Google and Giving It Away

Corporate philanthropy is far from dead, even in this economic crisis. Instead it's being reinvented as a key element in corporate strategy and, by extension, in corporate marketing.

Alyson Warhurst (of Warwick Business School in UK, World Economic Forum faculty, and consulting firm Maplecroft) wrote an opinion piece for Business Week in December, saying the economy is forcing companies to trim philanthropy budgets and realign initiatives with their long-term business goals. "We will see investments targeted to help companies manage their risks, responsibilities, and reputation--what I call R3."

Today's New York Times reports that Google's philanthropic unit, Google.org, is fine-tuning its strategy. Now philanthropy will be more closely aligned with Google's goals and strategies "to ensure that we’re better able to build innovative, scalable technology and information solutions,” according to the executive who's stepping down from Google.org.

What does this mean for Google and the world? Professor Vaidhyanathan of the University of Virginia comments: “The habits and ideology of the company will lead the philanthropy rather than the needs of the communities or the planet.”

Even if Google's philanthropy is more narrowly focused, the company's image should remain intact. In fact, this move may reassure stockholders and fans that Google's social responsibility investments have a solid business basis. Sorry, Milton Friedman, this doesn't mean that the only business of business is business. It does mean that businesses can be socially responsible to the world and to their stakeholders at the same time, even during challenging economic times. That's still a strong marketing story for any company.

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