American Express and the New Philanthropy of Engagement

In today’s economy, engagement is the name of the game for corporate philanthropy.  When a plethora of good causes is pounding down the doors for dollars, how does a corporate foundation decide where to give for the greatest good?  American Express is tackling this dilemma through a variety of means: technology, promoting service and collaboration, and developing emerging leaders.  The result? The company is working hand-in-hand with communities to advance community revitalization, environmental preservation, and economic development, along with other key issues.

Through online voting, AMEX invited the people of San Francisco and Chicago to select the sites the company would restore, preserve, and revitalize to reflect each city’s rich cultural history, drive tourism, and stimulate economic development. Through Partners in Preservation, a partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the company did the same for New Orleans, working with a community advisory group, and will announce yet another city in just a few weeks. Ongoing volunteer service continues the company’s engagement with the community. The company is also collaborating with the World Monuments Fund to preserve global sites, such as Dehli Heritage City in India and Mexico City’s Historic Center.

Launching the Nonprofit Leadership Academy, AMEX convened emerging leaders from 24 nonprofits nation-wide with the company’s highest ranking executives in 2008.   The company has already planned two more of these week-long intensive leadership academies in 2009, bringing together cadres of next generation leaders from organizations addressing conservation, economic development, health and human services, arts and culture, education, and public policy, among others.

It’s no wonder that Timothy J. McClimon, President of the American Express Foundation, sought to deepen the company’s relationships with diverse community citizens and nonprofit leaders.  He understands the challenges facing social enterprises and appreciates their value from his own personal experience. Tim headed up Second Stage Theatre in NYC, and previously the Inter-Arts Program at the National Endowment of the Arts in DC.  With graduate degrees in law and counseling psychology, Tim also serves as Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility at American Express

Personally involved in the Academy is Kenneth I. Chenault, the Chairman and CEO of American Express, who explains that "It's not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those most adaptive to change. Over the past 10 years, the need for, and focus on, adaptability has accelerated."

Leaders in corporate philanthropy are becoming more inventive and purposeful not only in leveraging their dollars for greater impact, but also in building stronger ties to nonprofits and communities through technology and personal engagement at all levels in the company.

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