Quick Hits

Success and social responsibility.

4 minutes
Chris Stephens

Regardless of your beliefs on how businesses ought to operate, they’re failing business if they don’t grow or make money. It’s how our economy works. Businesses, big and small, employ people, produce goods, and pour wealth back into our communities. But money can’t be the only thing businesses care about. Today, we expect a level of social responsibility from businesses.

Social responsibility comes in many forms, from corporate donations to charities and public services, to internal fundraising campaigns for local disaster relief. Corporate charity and fundraising aren’t simply an expense for businesses, though.

When done strategically, social responsibility can be a powerful marketing tool (often referred to as cause marketing). It aims to promote a business through its charitable or societal work, which can effectively generate positive press for a brand. This has helped companies such as Patagonia, Ten Trees, Warby Parker, and Tom’s Shoes build amazing brands and loyal fans.

Being the good guys.

Like it or not, consumers don’t just like it when companies demonstrate social responsibility. They expect, maybe even demand it—perhaps with good reason. The concept of an evil corporation is well-engrained in pop culture and the public consciousness.

Corporations past and present have had their hand in some pretty unsavoury, if not downright disturbing, events. From a cynical point of view, one can see how cause marketing could help blunt criticisms levelled against the WalMarts and Chicitas of the world. Each ‘good’ act they can advertise diminishes the appearance of the various ‘bad’ acts.

On a less cynical note, cause marketing is an opportunity for good companies to reinforce their image as the good guys. Many businesses today, from massive enterprises like Pepsi and Save-on-Foods to small and mid-sized local businesses, use social responsibility to market themselves as a better alternative to their competitors.

Today, nearly 90% of consumers simply expect the companies they purchase from and work for to commit to corporate social responsibility.

A simple equation.

Let’s get cynical again—or at least cold and calculated. Even if you (or your company) have zero interest in social responsibility, it’s often worth your time, money, and energy to donate to charities, run sustainability initiatives, or commit to other forms of community betterment.

First, the cost of administering a social program can be large, but if done right, it can double as a marketing campaign. And nearly every business spends—or should spend—a sizeable chunk of their income on marketing (often averaging around 10% of gross revenue). Since many donations are tax-deductible, socially responsible businesses tend to pay less in taxes.

Playing the long game.

Finally, there’s the long game. If you can contribute to positive change in the world, at little immediate cost to your business and with the potential to actually grow your customer base through related marketing efforts, you’re coming out ahead. A better, safer, more sustainable society is a stable one. Stability is good for the bottom line.

How do I get in on this?

Social responsibility and cause marketing aren’t techniques exclusive to large organizations. Many small, local charities run events that require sponsorship. Provide a product or service to one of these organizations. In exchange, you’ll get your logo put on their banners, fliers, and other promotional materials. Often, the work you do will be tax-exempt. Get a receipt!

You could also donate to your local hospital or another public project, and then send out a press release. If that sounds sleazy, remember that businesses still have a responsibility to pay their shareholders and maintain job security and competitive wages for their workers. If charity is nothing but a cost, it can hurt the company’s bottom line and jeopardize its success. This is about mutual benefit.

Caveat emptor.

It means ‘buyer beware’. Regardless of your reasons, make sure the organizations and charities you donate to/work with are reputable. Many charities spend a great deal on administrative costs, leaving little for actually doing the work they purport to do. Charities with little overhead aren’t necessarily better, as the administration is important and reasonable administrative costs ensure that money is being spent effectively. However, charities that spend excessively on administration often end up funnelling cash to their executives.

Be sure you don’t invest in a questionable charity. On some level, you’re tying your fate to theirs. If they’re exposed as fraudulent, at best, you’ll look incompetent for investing in them, and at worst, you could end up looking complicit.

Want to do your research on charities before working with them? Use a tool like Charity Intelligence or Charity Navigator to ensure their reputation is sterling. There are also often local organizations—such as Do Some Good here in Kelowna—that can help identify worthwhile causes.

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Chris Stephens, Twirling Umbrellas CEO, in black and white.

Written By

His bookshelf is a mishmash of leadership learnings, the latest in technology, and Marvel Comic heroes. Drawing inspiration from the likes of Clark Kent and Elon Musk, he started Twirling Umbrellas in 2013. Since then has built it into the ambitious, digital agency it is today. When he’s not in the office, you’ll find him rising at 5 am for his boys’ hockey tournaments or training for a marathon.