I have always been uncomfortable when I hear businesses talk about CSR and philanthropy in terms of 'giving back to the community'. I realize of course that in many ways it is only a turn of phrase, but the language we use is important and the implication of giving back is that we have somehow taken away. And I believe that this is how some people, inside and outside of corporations, think of corporate giving. That we are giving back to compensate for having taken away. The use of the terminology perpetuates the view.
There are different forms of giving. Community investment is exactly what it says it is - a company invests in communities in which it operates for reasons such as employee engagement, customer engagement, market development and risk mitigation. But it isn’t giving back to compensate for having taken away.
Philanthropy is the purely altruistic giving of part of a company's profits to charity. Some companies have philanthropic giving written explicitly into their mission (eg. Wholefoods). Others donate to charity with the implicit support of their shareholders. But again, it isn’t giving back to compensate for having taken away.
If by our actions we are taking away, we should stop taking away, rather than giving back a little to compensate. And I think there is a role for the corporate responsibility practitioner here to be involved not just in philanthropy, but in the broader operations and services of the company and the impact of those activities on the community and environment. Where that impact has negative components there is a need to address and mitigate or reverse that negative impact.
Either way, I would like us to find alternative terminology to “giving back to the community” to describe the activities of corporate responsibility.