Common Impact Blog

Strange Bedfellows: A call to action from Estée Lauder’s Nancy Mahon

By Danielle Holly | Nov 5, 2014

Last week, Nancy Mahon, newly installed SVP of global philanthropy and corporate citizenship at Estée Lauder issued a very different type of challenge to her competitors: she pressed them to share the business impacts -- the data, the mistakes, the successes -- of their consumer-focused philanthropic campaigns. The goal: to increase the effectiveness of those campaigns, across all industries,  and their ultimate impact on communities. In a recent Fortune article she added "If companies across industries worked together…she could learn what models of giving work the best, which could help take Estée Lauder’s corporate philanthropy and those of other companies to the next level.”

Measuring the business impact of social initiatives isn’t a new idea, but having a Fortune 500 senior executive openly talk about how she wants and needs to collaborate across industries to realize the full value of her work, and Estee Lauder's investment in its communities, is.  

Mahon adds that “Corporate giving has been late to the game to be recognized as a business driver. No matter which data set you look at, people care that companies care about the world. But across the industry we need to better develop data. You can’t manage, what you can’t measure, and I believe that data needs to be across industries.”

This kind of tangible, "lift all ships" industry and sector collaboration will define the next generation of strategic CSR and corporate giving. Companies that can learn from each other while initiatives are being developed, incubated and evaluated (successful or not), and that are open to sharing business results (financial impacts, sales, shareholder returns, employee engagement and satisfaction scores) will allow companies to learn quickly what works, how to focus their investment of time and money, and ultimately deepen their impact on the communities in which they operate.

But, we are not naïve: this type of transparency and collaboration is not easy, not fundamental, and signals a significant shift in corporate approach to CSR. The barriers are real – companies are reluctant to share data or potential mistakes with competitors. And bringing the right people to the table, consistently and actionably, requires an individual or institution that owns and is invested in that convening itself. A leader that can make companies believe that there's new value for their business in coming together and pulling back the curtain on their work. 

This is just the kind of effort that Nancy Mahon and Estée Lauder seem to be taking on. By influencing their peers to join them, and creating comfortable, productive levels of sharing that allow companies to learn from each other is exactly what we need in taking the next step towards transformational corporate philanthropy. 

We look forward to watching as Nancy Mahon build this still-new model of purpose-driven collaboration. This next step -- making partners of her competitors -- will be a big challenge, but she’s well poised to take it.