Responsible Careers: Beyond the Idea of "Charity"

Recently, Forbes released its list of the top-200 United States - based charities. On this list are the Academy for Educational Development, the American Cancer Society, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the American Heart Association. Without a doubt, organizations on the Forbes top-200 list have had an integral role in improving lives, raising public awareness, and facilitating cutting-edge research. No organization -- public, private, or nonprofit-- is perfect, but without a doubt, charities should be commended for their hard work and enduring commitment to whatever cause they pursue. No matter what career path we pursue, and no matter our CSR objectives, we can certainly learn a thing or two from the philanthropic world.

Throughout the year, companies will partner with charities to help raise funds or to donate a large sum of money. This money may go towards operating expenses, tangible goods, or something else entirely. No matter where the money ends up, it does go a long way in keeping the charity in business. While companies benefit from positive PR, recipient organizations benefit from a nice check. Especially during the holidays, charities and philanthropy are on our minds.

As you refine your responsible career objectives, you may wonder whether charity and philanthropy are the essential next steps. You might dream of working for a nonprofit, and if you want to stay on the corporate side, you may be brainstorming ways to help your business cut your favorite organization a healthy check. But ultimately, you may wonder-- does such a step really make a difference?

To some extent, yes, and the measurable difference is context-specific. Nonprofits are important, and certain organizations do some really great work. No matter your beliefs, it's impossible to take a step back and to think, "Wow, donations are bad. Money for medical research is bad. Access to education is bad." Do these statements sound absurd to you? They should, because they are.

But is charity, the be-all, end-all to CSR and responsible career decision-making? At the end of the day, the answer is no. Responsible careers and CSR are as much about cogs in a machine as they are about the large (and potentially symbolic) gestures. Look at a company that donates a large sum of money. What do they do on a day-to-day basis? What decisions do they make? How do they treat their employees? Does leadership work hard to guarantee suitable health benefits?

These questions illustrate why we can't equate charity with CSR or responsibility in the workplace. CSR is something much bigger-- something that companies must live and breathe to redefine the status quo.

The purpose of this article was not to second-guess a corporate decision to donate-- it's to encourage responsible career leaders to examine the relationship between the big picture and minutiae. CSR involves more than just gifts and giving. At the very least, we need to take a step back and think about the career decisions that we make on a daily basis, whoever we are and no matter what we do.

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