We all know that the world is changing before us, but that’s a given and even a cliché. The big question is how is it changing? We’ve got a pandemic, social unrest, and an economy that looks like it’s being held together with chewing gum and bungee cords. In all of this there is a business world trying to right itself and at least restore some semblance of prosperity to prevent a years-long catastrophe.

We have many man-made problems that are repairable by ourselves.

It is wrong to say that a rebounding economy is all we need but it would solve a lot of problems; however, the challenges we face are not exclusively of the economic kind. That said, a paycheck can buy groceries, pay the rent and begin the process of building the next normal. The challenge is to avoid being lulled into a false sense of security that reverting to the old normal would be good enough, because it never was.

Luckily, there’s a lot of thinking and talking going on among the people who can operate some of the levers of society and make a difference. Moreover, a research project we’re just concluding at Beagle Research points out some important directions. Here are some things to consider.

A recent Wall Street Journal story, “A conclave of America’s Top CEOs Talks Race and Making Change” detailed a zoom conference that attracted more than 300 CEOs from America’s Fortune 500 companies. Attendees included CEO’s from IBM, American Airlines and Johnson & Johnson. Initially organized to discuss ways forward from the pandemic, it quickly devolved into a discussion over how to deal with the unrest emanating from the murder of George Floyd.

What’s heartening is that many of the executives echoed ideas in line with The Business Roundtable’s recently announced stance on the purpose of a corporation. Once narrowly defined as making profits for shareholders, last year the roundtable expanded its definition to include customers, partners, and local communities. If anything, the recent Zoom conference went a step further, to acknowledging a political role for the corporation as well. For instance, in the call Johnson & Johnson CEO Alex Gorsky said, “There are few decisions we make that aren’t political.” Even more to the point, Kenneth Frazier, Merck & Co.’s CEO, said, “We have to be very careful not to assume that this experiment that we have called ‘America’ can withstand our apathy right now.”

As luck would have it, Beagle Research conducted a survey of 510 senior executives over the winter, during the pandemic but before the Floyd murder. The study was sponsored by Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud.

Our research found that there is a high degree of awareness of the benefits of corporate giving to the corporation. We discovered that the majority, or 53 percent, of organizations surveyed already practiced some form of workplace giving or corporate philanthropy. But only 41 percent had knowledge of organizations like Pledge 1%, which is dedicated to helping companies to build their giving programs. Furthermore, less than half have a nonprofit affiliate such as a foundation or subsidiary operating for the public good. In sum, this leads us to think that the philanthropic impulse is alive and well in business and that the Zoom meeting and Business Roundtable evidence a deeper trend.

Our big takeaway is that there would be even more companies involved in corporate giving back if organizing and supporting their efforts could be better systematized and imposed lower overhead on a business. A total of 84 percent said they’d take advantage of free information and technology to support those efforts.

Another big takeaway is that corporate leaders have their ears to the ground. Fifty-six percent of senior executives in the largest companies in our survey said the Covid-19 crisis changed their attitudes (moderately, very much or extremely) about workplace giving and corporate philanthropy and 61 percent of middle tier company executives said the same. In total, most of the executives from medium to large companies agreed the pandemic had shown them the inadequacy of relying only on government, nonprofit, or nongovernmental organizations to support community needs.

All in all, the WSJ article and our survey show a leadership class somewhat attuned to broader societal needs even before the social unrest started. Taken along with the Business Roundtable’s statement, we get a picture of a business community coming to terms with its responsibilities and duties to society.

As we try to make sense of the challenges ahead, it’s data like this and not some random prognostications by thought leaders that have the chance to influence the direction of business and society. Interestingly, as we’ve seen before, CRM technology and processes might be well suited to midwifing societal change. I’ve called it the CRMization of society because I believe the database, workflows and analytics honed by business will have a bigger role in moving many discussions about what comes next. To download a copy of our report click this.

Researcher, author of multiple books including “The Age of Sustainability” about solutions for climate change. Technology, business, economics.

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