Method vs. Motive in CSR

by Risa Sherman

My DadMy dad has given me many lessons over my lifetime and one of the ones I always seem to draw on is:  Do not confuse someone’s method with his motive.

This came to mind recently when Goldman Sachs announced a $500 million philanthropy initiative to help small business owners through higher education scholarships, access to capital and mentoring.  There is little doubt expressed by journalists and bloggers all around the country that what is motivating Goldman is a desperate need for good will coming out of months and months of revelations around the company’s role in Wall Street’s financial meltdown.

Goldman appears to have begun to embrace what we in causenation always look for from corporate America – transparency. Goldman executive Lloyd C. Blankfein, acknowledged at a conference in New York, on the same day as the philanthropy announcement, that the company had made mistakes, and that it was sorry. He said, “We participated in things that were clearly wrong and have reason to regret. We apologize.”

So I ask you this: regardless of what has motivated Goldman to come to this point, is this program any less valuable to society? Is it any less beneficial to lower income small business owners in need of education, expertise and capital?

I would say no to both of those questions, and I personally welcome $500 million in philanthropy at a time when the nonprofit sector and the people benefitting from this program need it most. Clearly Goldman knew that authenticity and credibility would be questioned, and so I was delighted to see that the program will be guided by an advisory board with way more credibility than anyone in Goldman could ever have ever again.

In life, when one person wrongs another he often issues an apology and tries to do something to make amends. When we look to companies and industries that have been caught in business practices that are questionable at best, and they acknowledge and apologize, is their means of making amends – whether in new policies and practices or in philanthropy any less helpful to those in need?

With eyes wide open causenation will be watching you Goldman Sachs. We know what motivated you and in the same breath we applaud your method. Now go and live your values every day, not just when the chips are down.

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