It is a beautiful and often overlooked truth that most corporations – like arts organizations – are the result of someone’s imagination and desire to serve people. An individual or a few people dedicate their efforts to inventing something that can make people’s lives easier or create opportunities.
A man concocts a syrup recipe that can alleviate headaches and stomach pains. This becomes Coca-Cola. The enterprising Wright brothers dream of a flying machine that can take people anywhere. Their innovation leads to the creation of the airline industry. An immigrant from Italy uses his own money to provide loans to Italians in San Francisco turned down by other banks. This becomes the Bank of America.
Whether imagination leads to legally forming a corporation or a nonprofit (a term I passionately dislike but that’s another article), all organizations must seek the highest profit – to be of service or benefit to people. Ultimately the users of the company’s service decide if the organization is successful in this regard and will prosper. As corporations get bigger, they can often lose sight of this early commitment to serving people or of the people’s say in their success. Or a company may grapple with the best way to authentically connect to its consumers and the larger community it wishes to engage.
A socially responsible corporation sets itself apart from competitors by building mutually beneficial relationships with customers and by aspiring to be transformational not merely transactional. It welcomes and pursues responsibility, understanding that its lasting success is connected to the communities it serves and impacts.
The arts provide unique opportunities for companies wanting to be transformational. The sector has a primary focus on sharing universal human stories and expressing the human condition in ingenious forms. As a result, the arts have a special ability to transcend boundaries, overcome discord and form lasting bonds. The corporation meanwhile can serve the arts by providing its unique economic and discretionary services to solve problems for and with the arts community. This exchange can foster an authentic and thriving ecosystem that not only benefits the arts and business partners but also the larger community.
Bank of America is a company that shares its resources with the arts. It supports over 2000 arts institutions through its volunteer program and its foundation grants. It offers conservation for significant art works and makes its notable art collection available to museums and 501(c)(3) galleries at no charge. Working with over 150 arts and cultural institutions across the country, the company created one free weekend a month for cardholders. It partners with arts organizations worldwide to provide support for services, audience engagement and new works.
These important initiatives indicate high regard for the arts. Bank of America’s programs leverage the company’s economic and employee resources and support arts organizations in creating and sharing their work. As a customer, I applaud this commitment and have a few ideas to offer to illuminate the “total toolbox” approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR), corporate community involvement (CCI) and full impact investment, as noted in Animating Democracy’s report.
To increase its CSR/CCI impact, the company and the arts industry could leverage each other’s knowledge expertise more specifically to support economic education and opportunity for instance. Financial literacy is not strong in America. People of all ages and from all backgrounds are intimidated by money management and financial terms. Arts organizations have an expertise in animating information in a way people understand and remember. Perhaps Bank of America, with its financial expertise, could partner with a theater company to create a financial literacy program comprised of engaging workshops and materials. The program could be available to anyone, which would likely result in new business and increased financial literacy for the community, a win for all. The company also could consider a customized education and loan program to support office and home real estate purchases by artists, who struggle with ownership challenges due to many factors from their work creation cycles to lack of a W-2.
Other ideas abound. Bank of America could offer art placement on my debit or credit card, especially exciting if I can choose an arts organization to receive a portion of my spending. The company could leverage its arts success stories for its marketing campaigns, significantly raising awareness of the company’s commitment and of the arts organizations. It could bring its partner arts organizations into its branches, making the physical spaces come alive in delightful ways for customers, who can view paintings from the private collection or listen to live music while banking. This level of activation multiplies success for everyone by increasing program recognition, creating opportunities for artists and sparking personal relationship experiences for the customers with the artists and branch employees.
There are countless opportunities for the arts to be integrated into a corporation’s business in innovative ways that give a big return on community and put profit in everyone’s pocket.
BY JANA LA SORTE / AMBASSADORA