Global Corporate Giving: When Cutting a Charity Check Doesn't Cut It

This article was published on CSRwire Talkback on November 20, 2013.

Part of the Consumer Perspectives: Turning Insights into Action series

As we enter the biggest charitable giving time of the year, companies are embracing the holiday spirit with an eye toward the greater good. But, even during this time of generosity, cutting a check alone isn’t going to cut it. According to the 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, only 7 percent of global citizens believe donating cash or products is the priority way companies should address pressing, complex social and environmental issues. Today’s savvy consumers expect companies to drive positive societal change both inside and outside their corporate walls, from developing new products and partnerships to instituting operational changes. Companies need to take these high expectations into consideration as they activate their holiday cause campaigns.

Stretching Beyond Traditional Corporate Philanthropy through Strategic Campaigns

Several leadership companies are responding to this new standard for giving, such as American Express’ economic development-focused Small Business Saturday campaign. Entering its fourth year, the effort incentivizes consumers to shop local, while arming small businesses with the tools to market the campaign during the holiday season. American Express’ commitment stretches beyond traditional corporate philanthropy by engaging consumers to put money back into local communities, creating a win-win-win for all parties involved.

Despite the high expectations, consumers don’t expect companies to go it alone. Beyond purchase, consumers are inclined to volunteer or donate if they know a company they trust has given a stamp of approval to a nonprofit partner. If given the opportunity:

  • 78 percent of global citizens would donate to a charity supported by a company they trust
  • 77 percent would volunteer for a cause supported by a company they trust

Virgin Mobile’s FreeFest encourages consumers to volunteer or donate by exchanging positive acts for free tickets to the brand’s annual music festival. Consumers can sign up for sanctioned volunteer opportunities or donate dental hygiene kits through the brand’s RE*Generation “Free I.P.” program. According to the website, the program has raised nearly $800,000, accumulated 75,000 volunteer hours and donated 25,000 hygiene kits during the past four concerts.

Another great example is Crate & Barrel’s Hearts & Homes campaign, a multi-year commitment to help revitalize communities across the country. Through focused grant making, employee volunteerism and cause marketing, the company is holistic in its approach this holiday. It’s selling a series of ornaments crafted exclusively for Crate & Barrel from developing parts of India, Africa and Peru, too. The production of these items helps fund community building in developing countries and allows crafters to earn a sustainable income.

As companies evolve beyond corporate check-writing to a comprehensive approach to social impact, here are five guiding principles to consider:

1. Turn your stakeholders into partners

From employees, to consumers, to customers, stakeholders must be elevated beyond an end-game audience to genuine partners. Realize they are cause-savvy – they see and hear about social and environmental issues nearly every time they buy something. Break through the sea of ribbons by giving them specific jobs that only they can do – and that must be done for real progress to be made.

2. Seek out new opportunities to innovate and accelerate solutions

Traditional models for corporate philanthropy are giving way to new, inventive approaches to social impact – with potentially game-changing results. Leading companies are activating cross-industry collaborations to identify creative solutions, using technology and digital platforms to share and gather information and forging unlikely partnerships to take advantage of distinct areas of expertise and unexpected assets.

3. Explore new communication channels to broaden reach and appeal

Social media simply cannot be ignored, and companies must strategically and thoughtfully utilize these living communication channels to not only provide updates on new programs and progress toward goals, but also to encourage active dialogue and idea generation with vested parties.

4. Provide ongoing and transparent proof of individual and collective impact

Between a starting point and the end goal, there are many milestones along the way. Establish success indicators at the outset of program development – and communicate them, warts and all, transparently and consistently. Ensure stakeholders understand how they’re individually contributing to the larger task at-hand, as well as how collective efforts are achieving progress.

5. Integrate social impact within your company’s business and CSR efforts to maximize potential for impact

The days of siloed philanthropy and corporate responsibility are long gone. Leadership companies understand the interconnectedness of today’s complex issues, as well as the necessity for an integrated approach to corporate social responsibility. Social impact is a vital component of CSR – one that often brings a company’s broader citizenship commitments to citizenship to life in personal and tangible ways.

About the Author:

As executive vice president of Cone CommunicationsResearch & Insights group, Alison tracks and identifies trends to keep clients on the leading edge within the rapidly evolving landscape of CSR. She loves to fill the information gaps with proprietary research on stakeholder expectations, attitudes and behaviors with corporate CSR efforts. During her 15 year tenure at Cone, Alison has led the development of more than 35 studies, including: 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global CSR Study, 2013 Cone Communications Green Gap Trend Tracker, 2012 Cone Communications Corporate Social Return Trend Tracker, 2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study and the Cone Nonprofit Power Brand 100.

Alison has also served as strategic counsel for several key accounts, such as NARS Cosmetics, Neiman Marcus, Walgreens, Target, American Cancer Society and Deloitte. To further keep Cone on the pulse of the industry, Alison serves as a regular contact for the media and a speaker at many leading conferences.

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