During the holiday season, helping others is on many people’s minds.  We see more charitable branding and increased advertising to encourage people to give – to capture the true spirit of the holidays.  Right after the shopping whirlwind of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we celebrated “Giving Tuesday” with the hashtag #GivingTuesday trending on Twitter. Many large charities are encouraging donations on social media, among other platforms. Text a number and you can donate $10 to American Red Cross to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy.  Salvation Army volunteers are ringing their bells on street corners and outside of suburban shopping malls.  St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital launched a Thanks and Giving campaign across a variety of platforms – television, online and print– partnering with a number of nationwide retailers to allow shoppers to make a donation to St. Jude during in-store or online checkout.

For most large companies, a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy is a key component of each annual strategic plan.  Charitable giving is a large component of that plan, and the holiday season is prime time. Certainly business giving back is the right thing to do as a matter of societal obligation.  The question to consider is whether it actually helps build brand loyalty and makes business sense from a marketing, advertising and sales basis.

The Way I See It

  • I see more companies and influential brands not only making CSR strategies a significant part of their annual missions, but also striving to make CSR a part of their corporate identity and brand.  CSR has become a part of branding, marketing, and advertising efforts year-round.
  • I see new start up’s, especially in technology, social media and new products/services, have as their core positioning – a CSR backbone, and this as an element that both motivates the participants and attracts like-minded customers.
  • I see consumer brands continue to strategically partner with charitable organizations to integrate the process of raising funds for the charities with purchasing consumer goods and services.  I see marketers, advertisers and charities recognizing a real win-win.
  • I see skeptics who say “CSR is dead” and argue against strategies involving charitable giving – for instance, a business school professor recently published “The Case Against Corporate Social Responsibility” in The Wall Street Journal.  In a tough economic environment where every expense must be challenged, I see the increased use of hard data to support the economic proposition that CSR is good for the long term, and if done right, even better for the short term.
  • I see increased regulatory scrutiny of charitable giving and tie-in’s. With the rise of social media and web giving, there is a greater opportunity for fraud. Many states strictly regulate such programs. In October, the New York Attorney General’s Office issued “Best Practices for Transparent Cause Marketing,” after conducting a study of various CSR programs to benefit breast cancer.

The Way the Industry Sees It

I sat down with Dorothy Jones, Vice President of Marketing at Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to discuss Corporate Social Responsibility and what it means for branding, consumer engagement, and the importance of being strategic.

In what ways have Corporate Social Responsibility efforts evolved in recent years?  Did the financial crisis and the current state of the economy have an impact on charitable giving efforts?

We did not see a change in commitment from our corporate partners overall, although we did see the impact of the recession and unemployment in certain industries and in fundraising from individuals, which we expect will improve as the economy improves.  This tells us that business people understand the value of their commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility programs especially in difficult economic times.  This kind of commitment allows us to meet the extra demands for services that organizations like ours provide to people in need.

How important are the holidays to charities in terms of fundraising? Is there a seasonality to charitable efforts?

The holidays are always a special time in general.  Organizations also experience their own seasons – for example, we do a significant amount of fundraising in the fall during National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and in the spring, around Mother’s Day, when people are remembering, celebrating, or honoring the women in their lives who have faced breast cancer.

With the increased emphasis on data and ROI for marketers, how do you see consumer brands and Fortune 1000 companies measuring the impact and benefits of CSR campaigns?  What are the metrics that companies can use to justify their expenditures?

Given that I have now been on both sides of the negotiating table for CSR campaigns, I will share both perspectives.  As a “for profit” business, the ROI is rooted in improved brand equity measures (regard & recognition), increased revenue from a co-branded product/service, and the ability to tout goodwill on a cause that the company/brand is passionate about and committed to.  On the “nonprofit” side, we know our partners and use similar metrics.  It is about aligning with a company or brand that has broad awareness and reach.  Additionally for Komen, we have four areas of investing dollars in our mission: Community Outreach, Research & Science, Advocacy, and Global Outreach.  Therefore, we have an added metric to raise funds to invest in our mission so that we can continue to see progress in fewer women being diagnosed and fewer dying from breast cancer.

In what ways do you think CSR is beneficial for consumer and brand loyalty, both short term and long term?  How do you address the arguments against CSR?

We see CSR programs as “win-win-win.” First, as a win for consumers who can easily and conveniently support the causes they’re interested in through their purchases or participation. Second, as a win for companies that want to connect and engage with their customers in very meaningful ways, and third, a huge win for nonprofits to raise funds and expand their mission and reach. Numerous studies show that consumers are more likely to think highly of, and purchase from, a company that’s engaged in social causes. In our case, we ask our partners to do more than make a donation. We ask for a program that can provide awareness or education with their consumer base as well, and we have numerous examples of partners who provide education, research funds, awareness, or other programs that engages their consumers, employees, and stakeholders. Finally, most companies are trying to engage two major consumer groups (moms and millennials) from a purchasing power perspective and word of mouth influence. In a 2010 Cone Study on Cause Marketing, 92% of moms want to buy a product supporting a cause (vs. 83% average) and 53% of millennials have bought a product benefiting a cause (vs. 41% average).

Could you give readers one or two examples of successful CSR strategies and explain what made them successful for both the social organization and the brand/corporation?

Three strong examples leap to mind at our organization.  Yoplait has partnered with us for years on the “Save Lids to Save Lives” program, which has raised millions for our breast cancer programs and reaches both individuals and groups that want to raise money and participate in meaningful ways.  The “Save Lids” program capitalized on Komen’s grassroots strength by working closely with our local Komen offices and the funds raised from the program have been largely invested back into those local communities.  American Airlines, a longtime partner whose support dates back to the 80’s, truly made Komen and the breast cancer cause a part of their core business, engaging every facet of their company in the cause: vendors, customers, employees, and products.  They raise $1 million per year from their customers through the “Miles for the Cure” program, and those funds are dedicated to help Komen fund a large research grant for a rare and very aggressive form of breast cancer. Finally, “Rally for the Cure” is another longtime partnership that works on the local level – with golf and tennis outings or other social events – that raise funds and awareness for local Komen offices and our national research programs.  Each of these customized partnerships offer consumers unique and interesting ways to support our cause that are comfortable and valuable for them, and really help to make a difference in our mission and outreach programs.

What is the coolest object in your office right now?

A consistent conversation piece in my office is a caricature of my ‘favorite things’ and ‘favorite brands’ that I have marketed and influenced.  It was a gift from my Frito-Lay team as I transitioned from for profit branding & strategy to nonprofit branding & strategy at Komen.