During a national reckoning on race, some companies are dedicating funds to social justice organizations.

George Floyd’s killing sparked a trend in corporate giving. 

In the immediate aftermath of the 46-year-old Black man’s death under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer and the worldwide protests that followed, Columbus-based Nationwide announced in June a $1 million, multiyear commitment to support organizations that combat racism and promote economic empowerment. The company is one of several with large Central Ohio footprints—including JPMorgan Chase, KeyBank and CVS Health—that have recently announced major contributions to social justice causes. 

Given the national reckoning on race, the fact that more companies are stepping up their contributions is not surprising, says corporate giving expert Laura MacDonald, president of the Columbus-based Benefactor Group. “I don’t know of a single company that’s not using social justice as a lens for their charitable giving right now,” MacDonald says. “Even if they’re donating to organizations they normally support like the YWCA or the Mid-Ohio [Food Collective], they’re now viewing it through a different lens.” 

Increasingly, customers scrutinize companies’ public stances on issues before doing business with them, says Lu Yarbrough III, Nationwide’s associate vice president for enterprise diverse and cause marketing. In particular, he says, they are asking, “‘What does your company stand for, and what are they doing in communities to fight injustice when they see it?’” 

That’s true for Nationwide, which, Yarbrough notes, has for decades contributed to causes tied to racial equity through a variety of partnerships, including fair housing (National Fair Housing Alliance, National Urban League and UnidosUS), education (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and the Executive Leadership Council) and economic empowerment (Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Summit). 

The ongoing national dialogue on race and policing, in addition to the COVID-19 pandemic, prompted Nationwide to expand its focus to criminal justice reform, Yarbrough says. 

Nationwide is directing the $1 million in contributions to the following organizations:  

The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit organization that champions racial justice through litigation and public education;  Local NAACP organizations to foster social justice and economic empowerment;  The Bail Project, a nonprofit organization that provides free bail assistance and pretrial support to low-income defendants;  The Equal Justice Initiative, which provides legal assistance to people who may have been wrongfully convicted, unfairly sentenced or abused in state jails and prisons. 

Nationwide has also announced an additional $1 million, multiyear commitment to help fund the National Fair Housing Alliance’s Keys Unlock the Dream initiative aimed at addressing affordable housing and homeownership among people of color. 

Nationwide selected these organizations by building on existing relationships in the philanthropy community and by establishing a companywide social justice task force, Yarbrough says. Since Floyd’s death, Nationwide’s leadership and employees at every level have held periodic forums to share experiences related to diversity and inclusion. 

“From the CEO down to the frontline associates,” Yarbrough says, “I can personally say I’ve seen the commitment that we’ve made to be a catalyst for change.” 

New York-based JPMorgan Chase, which maintains a Central Ohio workforce that the company estimates at more than 19,200, announced on Oct. 8 a $30 billion, five-year commitment to provide economic opportunity to underserved communities across the country. The commitment includes an investment of up to $50 million in Black- and Latino-led financial institutions, and a pledge to continue to mentor and advise them to achieve future success. 

“As part of the philanthropic portion of this commitment, we recently announced a $35 million investment in career readiness, $7 million of this in Columbus,” says JPMorgan Chase spokeswoman Carlene Lule. “As part of the Career Readiness Initiative, the firm is investing in 10 cities globally—totaling $75 million—to help young people build career pathways.” 

In Columbus, JPMorgan Chase has brought on local partners, including Columbus City Schools, Columbus State Community College, Ohio State University and the state departments of education and higher education, to develop career pathways in every high school and prepare students for postsecondary education, particularly students in underserved communities. The project coordinator will be Ohio Excels, a nonprofit coalition of Ohio business leaders focused on strengthening education policy and workforce solutions. 

“It’s long past time that society addresses racial inequities in a more tangible, meaningful way,” Chase CEO Jamie Dimon said in a statement. 

In July, CVS Health announced a $600 million investment over five years to advance projects and policies that address inequality faced by African Americans and other disenfranchised people. The initiative includes partnerships with civil rights organizations to advance social justice causes; local projects include a plan to spend $13.7 million on renovating the 230-unit Rosewind apartment complex in South Linden, where 95 percent of residents are Black, with an average household income of $17,000. 

On Oct. 1, Cleveland-based KeyBank announced $300,000 in KeyBank Foundation grants in the third quarter to local nonprofits across Central and Southwestern Ohio for COVID-19 relief and social justice efforts. Central Ohio grant recipients are: Ohio Black Expo, Columbus Urban League, UNCF Columbus and the Center for Employment Opportunities. 

Also in October, the city of Columbus and the Greater Columbus Arts Council announced the Deliver Black Dreams initiative, which will support public art installations and a variety of social justice-themed projects by Black artists. The effort is being funded in part by the American Electric Power Foundation, Huntington National Bank and Grange Insurance. 

To effect lasting change, companies must demonstrate an ongoing commitment to social justice, says Nana Watson, president of the Columbus chapter of the NAACP, one of the beneficiaries of Nationwide’s $1 million pledge. 

“Nationwide has been engaged with the NAACP nationally prior to the death of George Floyd. We believe more corporations need to follow Nationwide’s lead,” Watson says. “We’re going to watch and hold businesses accountable for their commitment to diversity and community.”

Reprinted from Giving: A Guide to Philanthropy 2021.