The GE Foundation just announced that it will shift its philanthropic focus in 2009 toward meeting basic needs. The company will redirect $20 million dollars, a fifth of its total giving, to feeding, clothing and providing shelter for people in need. What’s more, GE is engaging its employees in the effort by increasing its match for employee contributions up to two-to-one if they are giving to organizations meeting basic needs in their communities.
Although the issues from which the money will be diverted will no doubt feel the pinch, GE is taking a bold position in fulfilling its social contract by tailoring its philanthropy to those areas where it sees the greatest immediate need, while maintaining its existing commitments where possible. The announcement brought to light Cone’s recent prediction that companies will move their giving toward local causes and basic needs as they strive to support the communities in which they have a presence during tough economic times. Companies continue to invest in issues core to their business success, while also recognizing the need to meet social needs as they arise. It's about being focused, but fluid. Leadership companies with strong values understand their obligation to make good on both ends.
The evidence indicating companies have no intentions of giving up on their commitments to society in 2009 is plentiful, but as GE has shown, the approach, priorities and objectives are likely to change.