On Courage

December 11, 2017


Tim McClimon

The following are excerpts from recent speeches at The Conference Board’s Corporate Philanthropy Practice conference in New York and the Institute for Corporate Social Responsibility in Washington, DC.

A few years ago there was a best-selling book entitled, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Well, everything that I really need to know I learned watching The Wizard of Oz and Star Trek.

The difference between good and evil. The meaning of friends and family. What it means to have a heart, a brain and courage. That there’s no place like home. And, of course, to boldly go where no one has gone before!

Lately, there’s been a lot written about courage. But, what is courage anyway?

Funk and Wagnall’s defines courage as “fearlessness.”

Now, I happen to think that a little bit of fear goes a long ways, so I tend to think of courage as managed fear rather than fearlessness. But, whatever your definition, some of our colleagues think we need more of it.

Earl Lewis, president of the Mellon Foundation, recently posted an essay where he stated that “this is a moment for courageous leadership.” He challenged “private citizens, leaders at universities and cultural institutions, in churches, synagogues, and mosques to step in and acknowledge the difference between right and wrong.”

Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, called for leaders of the country’s private institutions to have the “moral courage to reject and rewrite the old rules, and to transcend the politics of division and hate.” He asserted that leaders of philanthropy and civil society “have been slow to recognize the ways our systems discourage moral leadership.”

Now, I assume that you all have a heart – you wouldn’t be in the business of philanthropy and making a difference if you didn’t. And, of course, you all have a brain. You’re smart, intelligent, driven, and creative people. You wouldn’t be in the positions that you’re in unless you were. But, do you have courage? And, if so, how do you use it? What do you do with it on the job?

Well, as my parents used to say, “actions speak louder than words,” and this is where you come in as corporate social responsibility and philanthropy professionals.

What causes and organizations your company chooses to support, what criteria you use in making those decisions, and how you engage your employees speaks volumes about your company’s values and priorities and practices. And, sometimes fighting against tradition and inertia internally takes as much courage as speaking out externally.

How closely aligned is your philanthropic strategy with your corporate strategy and values? How much are you responding to contemporary and relevant community needs rather than just your own? How flexible or inflexible are you with your giving practices? How transparent are you?

How diverse and inclusive are your giving priorities and practices? Are you supporting organizations that are managed and run by women and people of color rather than just organizations that serve these groups?

How open are the choices that you give to your employees about what causes and organizations they can give to and have the company match their contributions? How much freedom do employees have to choose the organizations and projects that they would like to volunteer with? And, the hours of the day that they would like to do it?

Are you engaged in practices that are environmentally friendly and sustainable? And, are you creating real value for both your company and the community? If so, how do you measure it, and how do you communicate about it?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but they’re important ones for you to ask and answer. Because your stakeholders are watching you. They’re forming opinions about what you do, not just what you say.

So, be transparent and honest and inclusive. Have integrity in your work. Stand up when you need to. Fight when you have to. Be fearless when the situation warrants it.

But, use your courage wisely.

Good luck. Go forth and prosper. And, boldly go where no one has gone before!

If you have a question or comment, please follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and start a conversation there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog posting with friends and colleagues. 

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