We continue to be pleasantly surprised and impressed by the companies announcing the launch of new cause and philanthropy programs amid the current economic crisis. A few weeks ago we reported that Starbucks joined the Product (RED) campaign, and this week we learned that Wal-Mart has announced its intention to donate more than 90 million pounds of fresh food annually to Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest). The company also invested financial donations and employee time in building the infrastructure necessary for the success of this program, such as freezer trucks, shelving and lighting, to ensure the delivery of critically needed fresh food from store to table is safe and minimizes waste.
It may seem slightly counterintuitive that in such a precarious economic climate, companies would not only be sustaining existing programs, but embarking on new ones. But, as the president of the Wal-Mart Foundation noted, “We are a strong company, and we share what we have with people in need.” Bucking the urge, and even the pressure from internal and external critics, to cut and run, companies who maintain and grow their commitments to social and environmental issues during a time of instability exude strength and reinforce the loyalty of consumers and employees.
Previous recessions have shown that companies who invest in reputation building withstand the turmoil and come out on top in the end. For example, during the early 1990s, Nike tripled its focus on reputation, minimizing competitive threats and driving profits nine times higher out of recession than going in. GE, Disney, HP and Microsoft were each founded during recessions or times of panic and all invested heavily in communications and reputation-building efforts. It will no doubt be a long road, but we look forward to watching the corporate leaders, who recognize the importance of investing in reputation building and responsible business practices during these tough times, gain worthy recognition and loyalty in the years to come.