In 1984, Pfizer made a corporate decision to improve the quality of the neighborhood immediately surrounding its pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Since then, it has worked on neighborhood education, safety, employment, and housing. Pfizer’s Brooklyn redevelopment initiative is not directed by the corporation’s philanthropy group. Instead, initiatives and components are overseen by the company’s global manufacturing division and the Brooklyn plant manager. Philanthropy staff view their participation as one element of a broader strategy, but the commitment is embedded throughout the company.
Pfizer’s philanthropic giving takes three forms. A corporate philanthropy office and the Pfizer Foundation provide financial support. (The foundation technically is private, but the company’s current and former chief executive officer (CEO) are board members and company personnel staff it pro bono. This setup enables the foundation to draw on the company’s tax, financial, legal, and technical staff and other resources.) Staff who are responsible for the foundation’s philanthropic activities, both in the United States and internationally, are located at Pfizer’s New York headquarters but often work collaboratively with staff at other offices or plants, such as the one in Brooklyn.
The foundation’s endowment is about $350 million and its spending rate is 10 to 12 percent. Total cash giving by the company and foundation was about $98 million in 2004, including an extensive employee matching gift program that amounted to $31 million.
For several years, Chapin Hall has been working with a group of foundations that have an uncommon approach to their philanthropic mission. These foundations are applying many of the principles identified as key for foundations attempting to promote positive community change. We have dubbed their operating style embedded philanthropy because what distinguishes them from conventional philanthropies is an unusually intimate and enduring engagement with the communities in which they live and work. A long-term, place-based commitment is the first criterion for embedded philanthropy. A second criterion is a commitment to direct and ongoing community engagement and relationships with a range of community actors. Thirdly, embedded funders don’t think of these relationships as incidental or secondary aspects of their community work; they constitute the very means and method through which embedded funders do philanthropy. Finally, whether or not monetary grants are part of an embedded funder’s approach, their community engagement and change efforts consist of a good deal more than grant-making. Beyond these four defining features, embedded funders tend to share several other characteristics: an unusually flexible and adaptive approach to their work; a high tolerance for uncertainty; an emphasis on respect and reciprocity in their approach to community relationships; and a willingness to sacrifice a measure of the power and authority that foundations ordinarily possess. In a philanthropic climate of growing eagerness for new perspectives and departures, embedded philanthropy deserves greater attention from the wider philanthropic community. Its distinctive operating approach offers novel insights and leverage on the challenges and dilemmas faced by all philanthropic foundations.
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