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Charlotte’s Tale of Two Cities and Corporate Philanthropy

[T]his group of citizens from all sectors of the metro concluded that only a focus on systemic and structural change will have the desired result. “Programs are critically important; however, they generally deal with the symptoms of problematic, complex systems and structures”—not with the embedded policies, perspectives and practices that are at the heart of Charlotte’s mobility crisis.


Although both Project L.I.F.T. and Read Charlotte are among the 17 grantees selected by Bank of America and Albemarle for the combined $20 million, the list represents a series of investments in individual programs and organizations rather than a strategic investment in changing systems and structures as the Opportunity Task Force recommended.


How were these grantees selected? Bank of America’s spokesperson says both companies looked at each nonprofit’s long-term goals, data-based track records, and adaptability, among other factors. Albemarle’s spokesperson explained, “I did extensive interviews with private and non-private foundations and organizations….We want to make sure we have control over where those donations go. We want to leverage those dollars. Then, we want to give a platform for volunteerism.”


Personal connections also had a role to play. The wife of Albemarle’s CEO is the co-founder of one of the grant recipients—the Carolina Youth Coalition opened its doors in Charlotte in January 2018 and is modelled after a similarly named program in Baton Rouge, the former home of Albemarle. Vision to Learn is co-chaired by former Bank of America CEO Hugh McColl and his wife.

Can corporate philanthropy play a decisive role in moving Charlotte from its dead-last ranking for economic mobility? As Rick Cohen noted in NPQ in 2013, “Nonprofits have to ask themselves which is more important: the volunteerism and philanthropy offered by corporations…or their business practices relating to labor rights, public health and the environment?” Add predatory lending to that list and Bank of America’s contribution to our nation’s recent record on economic mobility clearly goes in the red.—Debby Warren

Read the rest at NonProfit Quarterly


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