From philanthropy to cause marketing to CSR, no good deeds went unpunished this week in opinion news. Professor Angela Eikenberry says in The Conference Board Review that cause marketing “distracts our attention and resources” from the issues. Writer Chrystia Freeland in The Washington Post called CSR a “cult” that “muddies the waters” of core business needs. The Wall Street Journal Europe’s opinion columnist Jamie Whyte writes “corporate philanthropy is tantamount to theft.”
These arguments would sting if they weren’t so tired and misinformed. Esteemed bloggers immediately went on the defensive to highlight the fallacies in these arguments, including Fast Company expert blogger Alice Korngold, who put it nicely – “CSR isn't about puppy dogs and ice cream. CSR is about conducting business with integrity and attention to the community in a way that benefits shareholders.”
Freeland and Whyte pulled the old Milton Friedman card, writing, “The job of business is to make money.” No arguments there. But this is just part of the story: corporate philanthropy, cause marketing and responsible business build reputation and drive shareholder returns. Here is even more proof: according to APCO Worldwide’s latest research, addressing business issues such as philanthropy, community engagement and energy efficiency spur reputation growth. And a better reputation translates into bottom-line benefits: the study notes that with a mere 1 point increase on its Reputation Index, the average consumer will spend an additional $133.05 every year. What will the shareholders think of this?
The big picture these criticisms are revealing is this: Cause marketing, CSR and philanthropy are so engrained in the way businesses should – and in many cases, do – operate today, that a critic can get valuable column inches just by offering a dissenting opinion. It gets attention and starts a flurry of letters to the editor, blog posts and tweets. But as long as efforts are authentic, sustainable and core to business values and operations, leading companies will rise above the dissenters, disprove the naysayers and continue to focus on meeting the demands of the increasingly conscious stakeholders with both business and societal returns. The critics have spoken, but your actions continue to speak louder.
Did you read any of these articles? What did you think?