While America’s current economic crisis is causing companies to rethink nearly every aspect of their operations – including giving and philanthropy, some may find it unfortunate timing that we mark today as International Corporate Philanthropy Day. But in fact I believe there is no better time than today to celebrate the philanthropic achievements of our business communities, share the benefits of corporate giving, and inspire businesses across the country and around the globe to embrace new and innovative ways to give back to their communities that go far beyond traditional financial support.

Today as Steve and I made the trip to New York to join corporate leaders in marking this day, we began thinking about the motivating factors that businesses have for getting their companies and employees involved in volunteering and philanthropy. We’ve watched as corporate giving has evolved from the old “checkbook philanthropy,” to a more strategic one, in which businesses are aligning their giving programs more closely with their expertise and capabilities — and their support comes more in the form of mobilizing the time and talents of their employees to make a difference. It is this broad base of civic participation that inspires us at the Case Foundation to help make corporate involvement easier, more accessible, and more meaningful in reaching those in need.

While today will be marked through symbolic gestures like the ringing of the Opening Bell at the New York Stock Exchange or the lighting of the Empire State Building in blue and green to mark International Corporate Philanthropy Day, the day presents us with a much deeper recognition of the power of the corporate sector to address some of our country’s most pressing problems. From reducing greenhouse gas emissions, to issues like the world water crisis or the prevalence of childhood obesity, companies can tap the abundance of their expertise, talent pool, and financial success to combat some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Not surprisingly, most chief executives of large companies say they feel more pressure today than they did five years ago to help solve social and environmental problems. Yet the majority say their corporate philanthropy isn’t doing an adequate job of meeting social or business goals – this according to a study produced last year by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, and based on research by McKinsey and Company.

We also know that members of the rising Millennial Generation increasingly want more from their chosen place of employment than a paycheck and benefits. They want to affiliate with a company that is playing an active, visible role in addressing the needs of our society. And young consumers want the same things from the brands they are choosing – they want to know that the company behind the brand is responsible, a good corporate citizen using its assets to make a difference in the world. Because of these trends, today’s smart CEOs recognize that doing good can help build competitive differentiation in ways that matter and that can translate to the bottom line.

At a time when some companies may be tempted to deemphasize philanthropic efforts, we plan to celebrate the opposite as we identify companies that are going above and beyond and giving new meaning to the phrase doing well by doing good. In the past year, we have watched as the leadership of some of our country’s top companies initiated A Billion + Change – a three-year campaign designed to leverage $1 billion in skilled volunteering and pro bono services from the corporate community. We are pleased to report that one year into the campaign, 23 major global companies including Deloitte, IBM, Intel, Pfizer, Target, and General Electric have committed specific pledges totaling more than $400 million in services to the nonprofit sector. But our work has only just begun.

In the coming weeks we’ll be calling on our partners at the HandsOn Corporate Service Council, the Taproot Foundation and their Pro Bono Action Tank, and the Committee to Encourage Corporate Philanthropy to share thoughts and reflections on emerging trends and companies to watch in corporate philanthropy, pro bono service and corporate volunteering.

There is no greater corporate cause, there has never been a time when there was more need, and we believe these great companies deserve to be recognized. Please watch this space in the coming weeks as we begin recognizing companies that are doing well by doing good.