Corporate philanthropy: Gift or business transaction?


  • Barbara Lombardo

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    • Barbara Lombard is a manager in the Public Services Management Consulting Practice of KPMG Peat Marwick LLP, specializing in assisting public and not-for-profit organizations with organizational assessment and strategic planning. She is also an adjunct professor at the Institute for Nonprofit Management at Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Oregon.


Much of the terminology and behavior surrounding corporate philanthropy reinforces the perception of it as a form of business transaction, rather than gift exchange. While the analogy to a business transaction is accurate in many ways, this article illustrates what is lost by avoiding the metaphor of the gift in reference to corporate philanthropy. By exploring the cultural meaning behind the gift-exchange relationship, the author reveals the social functions of gift exchange in corporate philanthropy. Language that avoids this strong parallel deprives us of provocative insights into corporate philanthropy as a modern extension of complex relationships among individuals and institutions that have been practiced throughout history. The author develops these parallels in order to counterbalance the trend toward treating and thinking about corporate philanthropy strictly as a business transaction.