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Strategic corporate philanthropy in the health care industry

Unprecedented industry change is shifting stakeholder expectations of health care philanthropy

As the life sciences and health care industry evolves and public attention on the health care delivery model increases, companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves and garner goodwill through visible and impactful investments in health and well-being. In this report, we examine the unique position of life sciences and health care foundations to deliver critical social change and present examples of corporate philanthropy.

Redefining health care philanthropy

In today’s life sciences and health care organizations, executive and employee stakeholders are increasingly attuned to the inefficiencies of traditional corporate social responsibility models. Traditionally, health care philanthropy has focused on charitable giving and volunteer opportunities for employees.

Meanwhile, consumer expectations of corporate philanthropy are also shifting: Seventy percent of Americans surveyed feel that businesses have an obligation to take on societal issues that may not directly impact business operations (e.g., may not be profitable).1

Given these changes, health care corporations may benefit from shifting away from traditionally disjointed and shorter-term philanthropic priorities toward sustained core initiatives that are clearly defined, linked to the organization’s key beliefs, inspiring to stakeholders, and effective in achieving positive social change.

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Philanthropy with a mission-driven purpose

By their nature, life sciences and health care companies are uniquely positioned to make a significant positive impact in their communities. Many health care organizations have already begun investing in the infrastructure necessary to promote and monitor community health and well-being, as research shows that the broader health care ecosystem has a significant impact on outcomes.Investing to promote healthy behaviors helps drive down health care costs and provides philanthropic activity with a purpose tied to the organization’s mission.

Health care philanthropy also gives organizations an opportunity to use advancing technologies to engage with traditionally underserved populations. Virtual care delivery and improved monitoring capabilities can be used to drive community engagement, promote personalized care, and contain costs.

In addition, life sciences and health care corporations have significant experience with investing in long-term research and development, which mirrors the type of investment needed for strategic corporate philanthropy. Developing a sustainable approach is essential to maintaining a commitment to societal progress and driving effective, lasting change.

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Engage employees for a cascading positive impact

Corporate philanthropy can be a pivotal component of employee engagement, and the life sciences and health care industry is rich with opportunities. It can take many forms, from volunteering to gift matching, innovations challenges, grant making, and more. The positive impact of philanthropy is often reflected in an employee’s choice of workplace. As 95 percent of employees say that their ideal employer balances economic success with social and environmental objectives, it becomes clear that corporate philanthropy and responsibility should be a core function of an organization’s operations.3 Millennials are especially focused on corporate social responsibility: Seventy percent say that a company’s commitment to its local community influences their decision to work there.4

Creating opportunities for employees to participate in philanthropic initiatives directly impacts employee satisfaction. For many employees, participating in skill-based volunteer programs or other pro-bono program is a critical way to finding meaning in their jobs outside traditional work. Companies with a strong social strategy also see higher employee engagement and retention.

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Innovative new models for health care philanthropy

Successful corporate foundations often look to alternative philanthropy models that rethink traditional grant making approaches and draw on leading practices in key discipline areas, as well as business expertise from the parent corporation, to strengthen foundation operations, and philanthropic efforts. As foundations continue to sharpen their results orientation and align with leading practices in monitoring and evaluation to translate impact, they also position their work to focus on sustainability and scale.

Instead of looking at corporate philanthropy as a series of one-off gifts or projects, many foundation leaders are turning toward targeted, strategic resourcing partnerships that operate at a community level and are designed to build local capabilities and resources. In one example of corporate philanthropy, The Medtronic Foundation is focusing on solutions to reach the underserved through community organizations who work closely with local health care workers and policy makers to develop local capabilities and infrastructure.

As the life sciences and health care industry evolves, foundations are seeing corporate leadership vocalize the importance of serving society. These initiatives not only benefit society, they return benefits to funding organizations as well. Differentiation from competitors, increased employee retention, a reputation as a positive contributor to society, and bottom-line benefits provide organizations that take a strategic approach to corporate philanthropy with an edge in the marketplace.

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Authors and Contributors

Dr. Sally Stansfield, managing director Deloitte Consulting LLP, is a globally-recognized leader in public health and development strategies. Sally is based in Seattle, WA.

Hanna Patterson, senior manager Deloitte Consulting LLP, is part of the Life Science and Health Care Strategy practice. Hanna is based in Denver, CO.

The authors would also like to thank the following individuals for their significant contributions to this paper: Ellen Gartner-Phillips, Libbey Davis, Sarah Shier, Courtney Cobb, Drew Guerra and Marion Robine.

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1 Cone Communications, “2017 Cone Communications CSR Study,” published 2017,

2 Hutt, Rosamond. “How Do We Make Health care Fit for the Future?” World Economic Forum, January 18, 2016.

3 Kwan, Winnie, and Emily Tuuk. “Corporate Social Responsibility: Implications for Human Resources and Talent Engagement.” Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies (2012): 1-10.

4 Nielsen. “Millennials—Breaking the Myths.” Published 2014.

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