American Express Foundation: Investing in the Organizational Capacity of Non-profits and Social Institutions
Published in Partnership with Forbes.com.
This article is part of an ongoing series at the Skoll World Forum titled “Our Theory of Change”, which highlights different strategies and approaches of investment organizations working for social impact.
- Over the past few years, we’ve expanded our efforts to develop emerging leaders at nonprofit organizations through the American Express Leadership Academy.
- We see the importance in supporting social entrepreneurs because the world’s challenges will only be tackled by a group of innovators with the social and emotional intelligence to create solutions and develop the skills required to lead.
- Recently, we launched Serve2Gether Consulting, a program that mobilizes American Express employees to provide pro bono consulting to nonprofits helping them address critical issues related to organizational structure and operation.
Giving back to the communities where our employees and customers live and work has been a corporate value at American Express since our founding. We made our first grant in 1872 and engaged our employees to help raise money to build the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1885. In 1954, the company established the American Express Foundation as a formal vehicle for grant making. We’re often credited as being the first company to launch a cause-related marketing campaign through a program benefiting the Statue of Liberty in 1983. For decades, American Express’ philanthropic work has supported thousands of causes that are important to its Cardmembers, its merchant partners and the general public.
That’s a great legacy and much like our company, our philanthropic work continues to evolve. American Express is currently focused on investing in the organizational capacity of non-profits and social institutions. We have taken this approach across all of our major giving platforms: leadership, historic preservation and community service. Bricks and mortar, leadership development, operational consulting are all practices critical to the future success of nonprofit organizations, but typically overlooked by many funders and we hope to catalyze change in thinking, particularly around leadership development.
American Express is committed to being the world’s most respected service brand. That service ethos, to employees, customers and communities, helps to underscore what we do philanthropically. Our activities support that mindset, and when we introduced our three focus areas, they were selected because they had those same principles. In short, we’ve made a proactive commitment to ensuring our philanthropic investments meet the unsung, but essential needs to support the future of the sector.
Over the past few years, we’ve expanded our efforts to develop emerging leaders at nonprofit organizations through the American Express Leadership Academy. While few companies support this type of grant making, we believe that it is a critical area that will help our nonprofit partners to achieve their stated missions, and it aligns with our own desire to develop strong leaders within American Express. Launched in 2008, more than 1,000 participants have been trained on the personal, business and leadership skills needed to run a successful nonprofit enterprise in the “new normal” of today’s complex economic climate.
Last summer, fifteen leaders who represent the future of social change attended the American Express Emerging Innovators Leadership Boot Camp where they received training, mentoring from key thought leaders, promotion, and opportunities for collaboration. We see the importance in supporting social entrepreneurs because the world’s challenges will only be tackled by a group of innovators with the social and emotional intelligence to create solutions and develop the skills required to lead. This year, we’ll be expanding the program to Toronto and Mexico City. Annually, nine Academies operate in the U.S., U.K., India and Japan, with the support of other nonprofit training partners.
Partners in Preservation, a program we created with the National Trust for Historic Preservation to help restore, preserve and revitalize historic sites, asks the community to vote for the historic place they would most like to receive preservation funding from American Express. Last year, we engaged nearly 300,000 New York City residents to help us give $3 million to preserve historic places and cultural sites in the city. Beyond the preservation grants, these historic places are gaining much-needed exposure to members of their community that will hopefully turn into future donors. At the same time, we are providing tools and resources that will help them to maintain the momentum that we have started during the program.
There’s a growing recognition of skills-based (or pro bono) volunteering as an additional way of fostering employee engagement in communities and social issues. Recently, we launched Serve2Gether Consulting, a program that mobilizes American Express employees to provide pro bono consulting to nonprofits helping them address critical issues related to organizational structure and operation.
Last summer, 70 New York-based employees volunteered nearly 4,000 hours, valued around $600,000, of expertise in marketing, digital media, and people management to 14 nonprofit groups, including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Habitat for Humanity and the International Rescue Committee. It’s important to utilize our employee’s business skills to benefit nonprofit organizations around the world. By encouraging employees to use these skills to help their communities, companies are building employee engagement and loyalty.
We know nonprofit and social sector organizations are tackling some of the world’s most challenging issues. American Express, its leaders, employees and customers, will continue to serve their needs by providing training, funding and volunteers to ensure they thrive and our communities benefit.