Companies shift ESG priorities toward racial justice

New data shows where and how companies plan to invest and allocate charitable dollars.

Racial justice top ESG priority

COVID-19 has brought plenty of business activities to a grinding halt. Corporate philanthropy’s not one of them.

A new survey from The Conference Board ESG Center reveals that despite the ongoing pandemic, 94% of large U.S. corporations plan to maintain or increase charitable giving this year. Where are those dollars going, exactly? The data shows heavy investments in efforts to address COVID-19 and bolster racial equity.

The data highlights internal challenges to reaching these lofty charitable goals, however. Fifty-three percent of the “corporate citizenship executives” surveyed (representing 55 major public and private companies with median annual revenues of more than $24 billion) said their departments’ lack of budget, time and staff are the biggest obstacles thwarting meaningful progress.

Paul Washington, executive director of The Conference Board ESG Center, suggests how to overcome lack of resources: “Successfully advancing their agendas, however, does not necessarily mean simply adding more staff to corporate citizenship departments, but also harnessing broader resources across the organization, focusing on increased efficiency, and developing partnerships with other companies to maximize impact.”

More insights from the survey include:

1. Increases in corporate citizenship donations will continue in 2022.

  • More than 60% of companies donated more in 2020 than they had budgeted.
  • In 2021, 97% donated the same or more than they had budgeted for the year.
  • Right now, 94% of respondents expect their corporate citizenship financial contribution budget for 2022 to be the same or greater than their actual 2021 spending.

All images via The Conference Board

2. In 2021, a majority of companies maintained or increased their giving to nonprofit partners addressing social issues associated with the pandemic.

  • Sixty percent of respondents’ contributions to nonprofits to address COVID-19 were about the same or greater than in 2020.

3. An even higher percentage of companies maintained or increased their funding to address racial equity. 

  • Eighty-five percent of respondents contributed about the same or more to address racial equity in 2021 as they had in 2020.
  • Ninety-seven percent of respondents contributed about the same or more to address racial equity in 2021 than they had budgeted for the year.

4. With 92 percent making racial equity a strategic priority, companies are increasing donations—and pursuing broader corporate citizenship efforts through a racial equity lens.

  • Eighty-eight percent of respondents have, are, or are planning to evaluate the design and delivery of their corporate citizenship programs through a racial equity lens.

5. A lack of resources is the top obstacle to achieving firms’ corporate citizenship goals.

  • Fifty-three percent of respondents cite lack of time, money and staff as their biggest obstacle to achieving their goals in 2022.

6. Corporate citizenship executives are focused on integrating their efforts with the company’s business strategy, increasing their impact, and enhancing employee engagement.

  • Just 6% ranked “increasing efficiency” as a top priority.

How is your company approaching ESG strategies in 2022? Which issues are you prioritizing–and why? It’s a crucial question for companies to consider moving forward.

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