Billionaires Giveaway: Who is Worthy?

I’m sure many recall the recent spate of articles on the results of a request by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett to get billionaires joining in something of a movement to promise at least half of their fortunes to charity. (Pledge to Give Away Half Gains Billionaire Adherents, NYTimes, 8/4/10) One report noted, “Many billionaires taking the pledge have already been active in philanthropy in everything from genetic and cancer research to education, gun control and libraries and the arts.” (U.S. billionaires pledge fortunes to charity, Reuters, 8/4/10)

My wife and I are likely to do the same with our “fortune,” if there is any money left when we die. We haven’t published our The Giving Pledge letter yet but we have been researching where our money might go. While I haven’t read through all the billionaire letters yet, I didn’t see any so far that emphasized corporate governance reforms. (Note to Readers: If you see any such evidence, please send me a hyperlink to the letter.

Through much of my career, I’ve been concerned with the idea that businesses and bureaucracies could be better designed to avoid externalizing costs and to ensure that employees are fully engaged, so that organizations meet their maximum potential. Even if billionaires embrace The Giving Pledge (I think they should), more money around the world is still more likely to be invested in businesses than is given to charity.

Much more attention should be paid to how we can use our charitable contributions to leverage where those investments go and how those making investment decisions behave. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a few charities to those billionaires and anyone else writing up their pledges or wills that could influence the fundamental rules of capitalism, who controls our resources and what is considered not only when investing, but more importantly, when owning a company.

  • Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility. For 40 years the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) has been a leader of the corporate social responsibility movement. ICCR’s membership is an association of 275 fait-based institutional investors, including national denominations, religious communities, pension funds, foundations, hospital corporations, economic development funds, asset management companies, colleges, and unions. ICCR and its members press companies to be socially and environmentally responsible. Each year ICCR member institutional investors sponsor over 200 shareholder resolutions.
  • Investor Suffrage Movement. Educational organization aimed at empowering shareowners. Their “field agent” program helps shareowners file proxy resolutions and saves activists hundreds of dollars in travel expenses by simply getting volunteers to stand up at annual meetings and support resolutions.  From t-shirts to building a proxy exchange database, their focused on involvement.
  • National Center for Employee Ownership. NCEO serves as the leading source of information on employee stock ownership plans (ESOPs) and other forms of employee ownership. Employee owners, who are also involved in meaningful participation in management decisions, are building more democratic businesses from the ground up.
  • Proxy Democracy provides tools to help investors overcome informational hurdles and use their voting power to produce positive changes in the companies they own. They help shareowners vote their shares by publicizing the intended votes of institutional investors with a track record of shareholder engagement. They also help mutual fund investors understand the voting records of leading funds, making it possible to purchase funds that represent their interests and pressure those that don’t.
  • Shareowners.org is an advocacy site aimed at getting shareownrs to lobby Congress on various issues. Users can also share announcements and commentaries with others. There is great emphasis on the site concerning the responsibilities of ownership and very little on stock picking.
  • United States Proxy Exchange is dedicated to facilitating shareowner rights, primarily through the proxy process. The USPX is structured like a chamber of commerce. Unlike a typical chamber of commerce, which represents corporate managers, USPX represents shareowners. The group has been instrumental in protecting the rights of shareowners, recently in the case of Apache v Chevedden.
  • VoterMedia.org is a public interest project for improving voter information and elected leader accountability in the world’s organizations — governments, corporations, unions, nonprofits etc. — by allowing participants to rate and reward information platforms based on value added. Kind of like an instant Consumer Reports for elections.

You can find much more about these worthy organizations by searching CorpGov.net or by going to each organization’s web site. Contributing to any one or all of these organizations can multiply the impact of every dollar contributed, since they each seek to influence corporate behavior and corporations are our dominant institutions. As Monks and Minow noted, with only the slight exaggeration suitable for book covers, “Corporations determine far more than any other institution the air we breathe, the quality of the water we drink, even where we live. Yet they are not accountable to anyone.” (Power and Accountability) Your contributions can reshape our world by harnessing their power for good.

Also of interest, last week’s “Here & Now” interview Mike Lapham, Director of UFE’s Responsible Wealth project and their discussion of the [possibly] soon-to-expire Bush tax cuts, the estate tax and The Giving PledgeListen to the full interview online today (fourth story from the top: “Some of the Nation’s Wealthy Say ‘Tax Me More'”).

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  1. CorpGov.net » Modal CSR Reporting - August 24, 2010

    […] employees were very lucky to have a founder, John Spedan Lewis, who thought beyond his own family (much like Billionaires Giveaway: Who is Worthy?). He was careful to create a very forward thinking governance system, including a Constitution, that […]

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