Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has come a long way, morphing from a nice thing to do to what it is today: a necessity for a successful business.
Today’s CSR programs have their roots in corporate philanthropy. Wealthy businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie challenged wealthy people to support social causes, following his belief in the Gospel of Wealth. In the late 1800s, John D. Rockefeller, taking inspiration from Carnegie, followed suit in donating more than half a billion dollars.
In 1914, Frederick Goff, a well-known banker in Cleveland, founded the Cleveland Foundation, a trustee of the Cleveland Trust Company. Its purpose was to give power to the community by accepting gifts from multiple donors rather than one fortune, who could collectively assess needs and respond to the community. This was the first community foundation.
It wasn’t until the 1940s, however, that businesses, and not their owners or shareholders, could support charities.
Howard Bowen, an American economist and Grinnell College president, is often cited as the “father of CSR.” He connected the responsibility of corporations to society and published a book in 1953, which advocated for business ethics and responsiveness to societal stakeholders called Social Responsibilities of the Businessman.