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  • Writer's pictureKenge Adams

What’s the difference between Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Philanthropy?

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

Industry leaders may find it challenging to sort out the difference between two fundamental ways of giving back: Philanthropy and Corporate Social Responsibility. While some individuals use these terms interchangeably, and both methods may be implemented at the same time, they are not precisely the same.

Here are the main differences:


In philanthropy, the focus is primarily on what is donated to an organization. It is often a transactional donation to make a social or economic impact.

How it is done: A business or its foundation supports the mission of a 501(c)3 or nonprofit organization with a donation or an ongoing commitment. The funds are ultimately disbursed by the nonprofit to beneficiaries, while the donor business usually reports on the impact and the use of the donation. These decisions are often made by the heads of an organization or through a Foundation based on their priorities.

How it reflects on the business: The donor business often is not expecting to personally gain from philanthropy and some perceive philanthropy as a limited engagement, which is different from ongoing work and support with Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).


In CSR, the focus is on actions and corporate behaviors. It is a hands-on exchange of energy for social impact and requires involvement from all the stakeholders, including employees and the community.

How it is done: A dedicated plan or activity is chosen that aligns or amplifies the business mission. Actions lead to benefits shared by the business, the employees of the business, and the community in which the business operates.

What happens inside a business: Businesses who adopt CSR encourage their employees to personally get involved in their sponsored programs or ongoing support of a designated 501(c)3 or nonprofit organization. The benefits to the business who embrace CSR include improved employee morale, increased staff retention, status as an employer of choice, attracting new business, an ethical presence in the marketplace, and differentiation from their competitors.

How it reflects on the business: A strong CSR can attract customers to your business. A 2020 report from Aflac found 77% of consumers say they would be more willing to purchase a company's products or services if the company puts time and money behind social, economic, and environmental issues; 73% of investors agreed. Nearly 50% of Aflac respondents said companies need to "make the world a better place," compared to only 37% who claimed it is more important for businesses to make money for shareholders. A 2020 survey of Millennials by Deloitte found their passion for CSR is highest among all consumers. Climate change and environmental protection are their top concerns.

Many companies conduct both philanthropy and CSR. Whatever decision is made by the business, it is essential to keep commitments so the impacts can be actualized and maximized. The cancellation of CSR programming and philanthropy obligations could negatively impact your business reputation.

Kenge Adams is CEO and Founder of Connect Business Consulting, the project management and relationship bridge between corporations and community organizations to work together on lasting change for a stronger community. Learn more at For questions, email


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