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Large Corporations, Social Capital, and Community Philanthropy

Sustainability, Stakeholder Governance, and Corporate Social Responsibility

ISBN: 978-1-78756-316-2, eISBN: 978-1-78756-315-5

Publication date: 10 August 2018


A large and growing literature examines the explicit social responsibility practices of companies. Yet corporations’ greatest consequences for social welfare arguably occur through indirect processes that shape the social fabric that sustains generosity and mutual support within communities. Based on this logic, we theorize and test a model that suggests two pathways by which large corporations affect community philanthropy: (1) through direct engagement in community philanthropy and (2) by indirectly influencing the efficacy of community social capital, defined as the relationships among community members that facilitate social support and maintenance of social welfare. Our analysis of United Way contributions in 136 US cities over the 46 years from 1952 to 1997 supports our model. We find that the presence of corporations weakens the contributions of both elite and working-class social capital on community philanthropy. Our findings thus contribute to a novel view of corporate social responsibility based on how corporations influence the social capital of the communities in which they are embedded.




We thank Marya Besharov, Jesse Chu-Shore, Adam Cobb, Elizabeth Hansen, Erin Henry, Shon Hiatt, Melissa Valentine, participants in the Work, Organizations and Markets seminar at Harvard Business School, and participants in the 2011 ABC Network Conference on Institutional Theory at Boston College. We also thank the Division of Research at Harvard Business School for funding to collect these data.


Lee, M. and Marquis, C. (2018), "Large Corporations, Social Capital, and Community Philanthropy", Sustainability, Stakeholder Governance, and Corporate Social Responsibility (Advances in Strategic Management, Vol. 38), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 197-226.



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