Question: should corporations care about helping to solve homelessness? In the United States, corporations are created by the action of each of the 50 States and are subject to hosts of regulations. They also have rights under the US Constitution. With rights, however, come responsibilities …
Since the creation of the US Constitution, the rights of corporations have been debated. The US Supreme Court has been determining the constitutional rights of corporations on a case-by-case basis. For example, early in the history of this country, the Court determined that corporations could not be citizens in the United States. Insurance Co. v. New Orleans, 13 Fed Cas. 67 (C.C.D.La. 1870). It held that under the 14th Amendment, only natural persons could be citizens. (Ibid.)
However, the Court found that corporations are “persons” within the due process clause of the 14th Amendment and therefore they cannot be deprived of their property without due process of law. (Smyth v. Ames, 169 U.S. 266, 522, 526, 1898). It further decided that corporations are entitled to the protection of the First Amendment (First Nat. Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U. S. 765, 778 (1978)), including being protected for political speech. (NAACP v. Button, 371 U. S. 415, 428-429.) As recently as January 21, 2010, the Court issued a five-to-four ruling that corporations are protected by the First Amendment from limits on corporate funding of political broadcasts in candidate elections.
Since corporations have been found by the Court to be “persons” with rights under the US Constitution, do corporations recognize any “personal” responsibility to help solve the social issues of the day, including homelessness? In other words, do corporations have hearts?
Answer: Virgin Mobile does.
Recently, I had the good fortune to speak with Dan Schulman, President of Virgin Mobile, one of Sprint’s prepaid brands, about corporate philanthropy. During our conversation, Dan said that he recognizes that corporations have “a moral imperative” to help those in need and that “It’s not just good to be philanthropic, it’s good for business.”
In 2006, with the support of Virgin Unite, Virgin’s Group’s charitable arm, Dan created Re*Generation, a program through which Virgin Mobile’s 5 million customers could be empowered to help end homelessness among youth. Dan coined the term Re*Generation so that the youthful customers of Virgin Mobile would be inspired to help members of their own generation — homeless youth. By choosing to help homeless youth, Dan hoped that “Re-Generation” would increase customer loyalty to Virgin Mobile and, at the same time, help the 2 million youth who are homeless in the United States.
Since it began, Re*Generation has helped raise close to $500,000, plus encouraged volunteers to donate more than 200,000 items of clothing, over 30,000 hours of community service and nearly 10,000 hygiene kits through the following projects:
• 2010 Virgin Mobile Extends the FREE.I.P. Platform Beyond FreeFest to include the sponsorship of “The Monster Ball Tour Starring Lady Gaga.” Offering music fans the opportunity to earn a seat at Lady Gaga’s sold out music tour, volunteers in more than 20 US markets each gave eight hours of their time to homeless youth organizations. Lady Gaga, moved by the disproportionate number of LGBT youth experiencing homelessness, recorded a PSA urging fans to donate to RE*Generation and pledged to match donations up to $25,000.
• November 2009: Public Enemy #1. To celebrate the third-year of National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, Virgin Mobile declared youth homelessness as “Public Enemy #1.” With the help of rap group Public Enemy, who gave an impromptu performance in the streets of DC before a concert, raised $25,000, more than 300 winter coats for the issue and for Sasha Bruce Youthwork, a local Washington D.C. organization that works with homeless youth.
• August 2009: “2009 FreeFest.” For the first time, Virgin Mobile’s annual summer music festival became “FreeFest” with free admission for a day long festival that previously cost fans $100/day. FreeFest also introduced a special volunteer platform labeled FREE.I.P. FREE.I.P. provided volunteer opportunities in exchange for VIP access to the FreeFest.
• November 2007: National Homeless Youth Awareness Month. The Re*Generation Task Force, with the help of singer/songwriter Jewel, and the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH) and others, lobbied Congress for the designation of November as National Homeless Youth Awareness Month.
• May 2007: TXT2CLOTHE. A partnership with American Eagle Outfitters which provided 200,000 pieces of new clothing to homeless kids throughout local distribution centers and organizations.
• 2006: RE*Generation, Virgin Mobile’s Charitable Arm, Launched. RE*Generation began by assembling a group of organizations like StandUp4Kids and Youth Noise as beneficiaries. The program was initially based around giving proceeds from downloads like ringtones to the cause of youth homelessness, and Virgin Mobile’s TXT2DONATE program.
On April 23, NAEH honored Dan Schulman, and Virgin Mobile USA with its partner, Virgin Unite, with its 2010 Private Sector Achievement Award. “Virgin Mobile USA has done some commendable work in raising awareness about youth homelessness — an important and emerging issue in the field,” said Steve Berg, Vice President of Programs and Policy at NAEH. “We congratulate Virgin Mobile on their efforts and look forward to seeing the evolution of their innovative Re*Generation campaign.
Despite all that Virgin Mobile and its partners are doing through Re*Generation, Dan assured me, “There is so much more yet to do … Our goal and objective is to end homelessness. We can’t stop until we get there. I truly believe that’s our responsibility.”
In view of what Virgin Mobile has done and what all corporations could do, I call for a corporation summit on the issues of homelessness, possibly subtitled, “Corporations Care,” so all corporations will be encouraged to help those in need. To be sure, I’d be happy to facilitate the conference!