How Much Do Kids Count in Corporate Board Rooms? Results from the First Survey of Fortune 1000 Companies

Kimberly M. Thompson, ScD

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction

Objective: The objective of this study was to characterize the extent of the business community's commitment to children, particularly with respect to understanding its role in assuring children's health and development, by conducting a survey of the largest US companies.
Method: A survey of year 2001 Fortune 1000 companies was performed to determine whether their mission statements, vision statements, or guiding principles include a commitment to children; whether they employ people under the age of 18 years in the United States; whether they encourage their employees to mentor children under the age of 18 years; whether they have an affiliated philanthropic foundation; whether their company's philanthropy focuses specifically on children; and whether they participate in any activities that particularly help disadvantaged children. The survey consisted of 2 mailings followed by phone calls to companies to obtain answers to the questions listed above and answers to additional questions that asked specifically about the company's financial expenditures for parental leave, child care, and healthcare for children of employees and about the company's specific philanthropic giving aimed at helping children. Descriptive information about some of the ways that companies impact the lives of children was also obtained to provide context for the responses.
Results: Data were obtained from 333 year 2001 Fortune 1000 companies (33%) between March 20, 2002 and March 20, 2003, with a good representation of all industry sectors. These data suggest that approximately 33% of the companies that responded have mission statements, vision statements, or guiding principles that specifically include a commitment to children. Employment opportunities for children under the age of 18 years in the United States exist at approximately 41% of these companies. These companies clearly see mentoring as a major theme, with 77% of them encouraging their employees to mentor children under the age of 18 years. Approximately 60% of the companies that responded support affiliated, independent philanthropic foundations, and approximately 55% of companies indicated that they focus their philanthropy specifically (although not exclusively) on children. Approximately 80% of these companies indicated that they participate in at least one activity that helps disadvantaged children. Many companies faced challenges in estimating their overall investments in children, particularly given their large and decentralized nature, but they were able to provide an overall sense of their commitment and they indicated that they could provide quantitative data prospectively if they knew it would be requested.
Conclusion: Many companies that responded play a major role in supporting children's health and development in the United States both directly and indirectly. Further efforts to better quantify the business community's aggregate commitments to improving children's health and development should be sought to allow better estimation of the amount of resources expended and the impact of these investments on children.

The well-established and important role of the business community in the lives of Americans continues to evolve, most recently, with growing expectations associated with meeting the increased challenges of globalization in an uncertain world.[1] Studies suggest that health and wealth appear to be intimately linked both on the aggregate and individual levels.[2,3] Businesses provide employment opportunities, healthcare to their employees and their dependents, and financial, volunteer, and other resources to communities and society. Nonetheless, the impact of their role on children, particularly on children's health and development, has not been extensively studied, and it is difficult to assess the relative importance of the business community compared with other stakeholders (eg, government, not-for-profit groups).

Clearly, businesses may invest in children out of altruism or because they recognize that today's children are tomorrow's employees. They may also, however, decide to invest in children because they sell products and services that are directed at children and families and their good deeds toward these groups may improve their visibility and competitiveness. In addition, they might find advantages in providing support in the form of child care, healthcare, education, and sponsorship of community events because their employees value these for their own children.

Whatever their motivation, businesses have the potential to be significant stakeholders in children's health and development, with spending on children in the billions of dollars each year. The choices and policies that they make related to children affect whether children have healthcare and high-quality day care and education, and whether community groups have resources to help children succeed. It is not possible to determine whether we are investing sufficiently in children without determining what we are investing and the impacts of these investments. Understanding corporate commitments to children is a critical first step in beginning to assess the magnitude of the business community's investment in children. The current lack of information about corporate giving aimed at children partly arises from the typical characterization of corporate philanthropic activities with categories like education, health and human services, civic and community activities, culture and the arts, etc., but not specifically focusing on youth.[4] A recent study indicated that education accounted for the largest portion of philanthropic contributions between 1978 and 1996, but contributions for health and human services were higher before 1978 and in 1997.[5] Given that support for activities related to education and health services is often targeted at youth, studies that show that these dominate corporate philanthropic efforts imply that companies do invest significantly in youth. In the first known study to focus on corporate programs that support youth, a survey of approximately one third of the 1997 Fortune 500 companies found that 99% of the companies that responded reported supporting youth and youth programs at some level.[4] The study measured philanthropic giving for youth in grades K-12 by the approximately 170 companies that responded, and found that approximately 27% of these companies directed 60% or more of their total giving towards youth and 69% of these companies had corporate foundations.[4] Studies of corporate volunteerism also suggest that most companies have extended their efforts in social investment programs well beyond traditional philanthropy, and they now support volunteerism in a variety of ways that benefit the community, their employees, and the corporation.[6,7]

Given the fact that children lack rights as individuals in the United States, the commitments of parents, the government, and other stakeholders in their health and development are critical, and efforts are needed to assess the sufficiency of current investments. At the same time that health policy analysts ask government agencies and foundations to specifically characterize their investments and spending on children and challenge them to evaluate their effectiveness and impact, we must also assess the roles of other key players and expect to measure their investments and impact. All such efforts must begin with an understanding of the current expectations and baseline data, and this study sought to provide baseline data about the significant corporate contributions to children by surveying the 2001 Fortune 1000 companies.