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The Case for Prioritizing Corporate Purpose

By Ebony Beckwith December 4, 2020

For all of the challenges 2020 has presented, this year has also afforded an incredible opportunity for businesses to take inventory of what really matters. The term “essential” took new meaning. Companies questioned how they could lend their supply chains to aid in the pandemic. They had to make tough decisions about who should be working, and which employees should be on the frontlines. And while we’re still learning how to navigate a global pandemic, corporate purpose can serve as a North Star.

Purpose-driven organizations are more resilient. They lean into strong relationships with employees and customers to inspire engagement and innovation. While in good times, it’s easy to think perks like free lunch and swag are the motivating force, in a time of crisis, it really comes down to a company’s core values. Everything else fades away and the question emerges: are you willing to prioritize purpose?

It’s clear that the business of business is changing. It’s not enough to only maximize the bottom line for shareholders. Companies must also elevate the interests of all their stakeholders, which can include employees, customers, communities, and even the planet.

Student looks through virtual reality device.

Salesforce empowers employees to give back through partnerships with local schools districts.

To better understand the role of corporate purpose and to capture the business value it can yield, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services surveyed executives at 168 companies who have already incorporated purpose into their strategies and have seen it in action.

The results make a strong case:

  • Eighty-four percent of respondents surveyed say their organization makes purpose an integral part of their corporate strategy.
  • Eighty percent identified increased employee engagement as a benefit of their corporate purpose initiative.
  • Fifty-eight percent say the main reason their company prioritizes corporate purpose is “to ensure our business contributes positively to society at large.”

There are so many ways for companies to integrate purpose into their strategies and day-to-day operations. One high-impact example is through corporate partnerships with nonprofits. The nonprofit sector was hit incredibly hard by the pandemic. In fact, a model projects that a third might have to shut their doors this year. But despite the struggle from having to shift their operations nearly overnight, many nonprofits experienced an influx of support. The recent Nonprofit Trends report found nearly 60% of respondents said their organizations had seen an increase in interest from volunteers to participate in their organization’s work. Organizations also reported increased donations from both individuals and corporate donors in July and August 2020.

Enabling employees to give back makes a huge difference for both the organizations and the communities they serve. Whether it’s providing paid time off to go volunteer or connecting employees to virtual opportunities, this hands-on time is invaluable…and irreplaceable, especially in a pandemic. Nonprofits need the skills, talent, and technology found in the corporate sector to help weather this storm and start reimagining their future.

When corporate purpose is front and center, companies can lead from a position of power and use their platform to create meaningful change that will last well beyond the pandemic. This is what will drive all other goals tied to sales, service, attracting and retaining diverse talent, and helping communities thrive. I believe 2020 will be the last year that companies can hide behind the status quo. Purpose is non negotiable and will become the new business as usual. It’s what will define true leadership.

Download the Report

To learn more about how executives and business leaders worldwide are thinking about purpose, download the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services report

This blog post is the first of a series on corporate purpose. Explore the other entries:


About the Author

Ebony Beckwith, Executive Vice President & Chief Philanthropy Officer

Ebony Beckwith is the CEO of the Salesforce Foundation and Chief Philanthropy Officer at Salesforce. She and her team oversee the company’s global philanthropic investment strategy and community response to hyper-relevant issues impacting our communities and culture, such as natural disasters, COVID-19, and racial equality.