Shareholder Activism: Changing Corporate Behavior

Thursday, December 9, 2010 -
7:30am to 11:00am EST
Philanthropy New York, 4th Floor, 79 Fifth Avenue, NYC.
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A Philanthropy New York Members Briefing, sponsored by The Nathan Cummings Foundation, Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation, The Overbrook Foundation, Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and the Clark Foundation.

WHO SHOULD ATTEND: All interested funders.


  • If you bought a company that was a major polluter, would you ask it to clean up its ways? 
  • What about a company that repeatedly violated safety laws or one that used suppliers dependent on child labor?  Would you use your power as an owner to try to improve safety practices or eliminate the use of child labor? 
  • As the company’s owner, would you be concerned about the impact of these practices not only because of the fact that they are antithetical to the very efforts you fund with your grant dollars, but also because they might decrease the value of your company?  

Most foundations would probably answer yes to these questions.  But while foundations give away billions of dollars to address social and environmental issues like air pollution, worker rights and child labor each year, they often overlook another avenue for change.  Through the holdings in their investment portfolios, foundations own significant stakes in publicly traded corporations, giving them standing as owners of those corporations to ask for certain changes to corporate behavior and raise questions about practices they find troubling.   Without spending a single extra dollar on grants, and with very little in the way of administrative costs, foundations can use shareholder activism to push corporations to strengthen shareholder rights, improve governance practices, increase transparency, and think more strategically about environmental and social issues.

This briefing will focus on the successes and challenges that the Nathan Cummings Foundation and other shareholder activists have had in their efforts to change corporate behavior.  Particular focus areas will include climate change, corporate political contributions, and income inequality.