[By Isabel Kelly]

Recently I was asked by the foundation of a large multinational company to share some of my thoughts on running a corporate foundation responsible for generating its own income; which inevitably brings up the issue of balancing the social mission with the money-making.

The company has moved its CSR (corporate social responsibility) function from an internal department to a hybrid model – a separately registered charity with a clear social purpose and target for fundraising, retaining the company name, some company funding and access to resources such as office space and seconded staff.

This model has similarities to the one in operation during my 12-year tenure at Salesforce Foundation (now Salesforce.org) and goes to the heart of a very pertinent debate about where the CSR or social purpose function should sit in a company.

Companies are experimenting with various models – in and out of the ‘mothership’ – to find what best serves their intended social purpose and makes the best use of available company resources.

Personally, I’m a fan of companies that fully integrate their social impact work into the core of what they do, that make it material to their business and report on it through all departments.

Legal & General are a good example of a business that makes its sustainability agenda material to its purpose as a company, with deep organisational engagement up to and including the CEO, and managed as a core business function, not a separate charitable entity.

The hybrid and the fully-integrated models can attract an interesting mix of people from both corporate and nonprofit backgrounds, bringing the skills needed to deliver social impact programs and to do effective fundraising.

Salesforce.org fundraises through selling to nonprofits beyond the initial donation of product, so when hiring the team it was really important to find the right people who could show the benefit of technology to enhance social impact, rather than just flogging stuff for the sake of making money.

If a foundation operates within a business environment where sales and profit are paramount, it can be easy to get swept along with the celebration of those achievements above the achievement of the social mission. It’s true for many large charities too, where the fundraising function can be quite separate from the delivery of programs.

It’s important to ensure that the sales/fundraising functions and people are tightly bound into the social impact mission, are involved in grant-making decisions and are engaged in the program work.

Finding the right balance means having the right leadership, people, strategy, and recognition & reward programs that keep social purpose up-front at all times and in all activities – from making the money to delivering the mission.