The Overconfidence Obstacle

A few months ago, we wrote about “The Humility Hurdle”, which addressed the reluctance of some CEO’s and companies to herald their CSR and philanthropic practices publicly, as a result of corporate ‘modesty’.  On the other end of the spectrum, we find a certain sense of bravado amongst CEO’s who cannot wait to toot their own horns and aggressively advance their company’s community interests, often without any thoughtful or strategic consideration of the full impact of their pursuits.

Case in point, Marc Zuckerberg, Facebook’s wonderboy, who announced last month that he was donating $100 million to the Newark public school system.  But the announcement was not made casually; it was done on the Oprah Winfrey show, with much hype and just days before the controversial Facebook expose “The Social Network” was released.  The merits or motives of this strategy notwithstanding, its hard to dispute that bringing the announcement to the Oprah show is about as bold a move as you can get.  It takes nerve, and Zuckerberg had to be feeling very confident about his plan.

And just weeks later, the plan seems to have hit a roadblock and skeptics argue about whether or not it is even legally viable.  Granted, the donation came from Zuckerberg, not from Facebook per se.  But this raises an even more pointed question – to what extent must CEO’s reflect their company’s CSR interests when it comes to their personal giving?  If they are not strategic and thoughtful in their own philanthropic efforts, are they undermining their company’s CSR progress?  Facebook has launched its own ‘causes’ platform that encourages users to “make a difference…on Facebook”.  Does this align strategically with Zuckerberg’s $100 million gift?  Should it?

Just as a CEO (and particularly one with public profile) has to consider the impact of his behavior outside of the office, so too must he think before he writes a cheque to the local charity.  Charity should not be flaunted flagrantly – and while Zuckerberg’s generosity may serve as an example to other Executives thinking of doing good, the apparent lack of strategy behind the donation may just come back to bite him….and by extension, Facebook.

And the flip side of the same equation is the notion that if CEO’s are philanthropically inclined, they are missing an important CSR opportunity if they do not integrate their personal giving experiences with their corporate interests.  Philanthropy can help to enhance corporate brand and community investment can generate opportunities for employee engagement.  These resources need to be considered and leveraged.  Perhaps Marc Zuckerberg should have thought through his $100 million donation more strategically before he jumped in full steam ahead.

Passion Points:

  • Consider that executives may be held to the same standard’s that their company’s CSR platform espouses
  • Try to integrate the personal giving of your employees and top executives with the community priorities being heralded by your company
  • Have a plan for your personal giving – think it through from start to finish before any donations are publicly announced.  Make sure that you can deliver on your promises
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