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August 16, 2013
The Business of Corporate Responsibility and Philanthropy

Catherine Heaney, Managing Director of DHR Communications, is currently participating in an executive course in Global Communications at Columbia University in New York.  In her latest blog from New York, she writes about corporate social responsibility and philanthropy…  

The Business of Corporate Responsibility and Philanthropy

Corporate social responsibility and philanthropy are part of the everyday vernacular State-side.  Less so in Europe, though global brands are applying their approaches in some countries, and a small cohort of domestic brands is following suit.

According to Carol L. Cone, Global Chair of Edelman Business and Social Purpose, corporate social responsibility and giving are no-brainers.  Cause branding and corporate giving equal profits, and she has a litany of statistics and case studies to prove it.

She cites a case of a corporate leader wanting to roll out a literacy programme: she steered him towards a pre-school intervention, instead, so that results could have greater impact and reach.  She also cites cases where corporates identify a project they want to champion but, only a few years into the implementation phase, new ideas and cases emerge and the corporate wants to jump ship or change direction.  She argues for the need to stay focused so that the benefits actually stick (both for the corporate and the beneficiary).

With clients like Avon, Microsoft and Reebok in her portfolio, Cone can speak with some conviction.  However, to me, corporate social responsibility and giving can have some downsides – and profits are not always the upshot.

For small and medium-sized business, there is a cost in terms of staff time and company profits.  Some of us who are committed to causes believe there are other feel-good and staff-development benefits to be accrued, and this helps us to reconcile the cost implications.  For other corporates, engaging with the communities in which they work (particularly in the case of energy companies or big infrastructure projects), and offering some element of community gain, can off-set significant opposition to project delivery.  Again, there’s a cost – and these sorts of activities do not guarantee against opposition and hold-ups.

Then there’s the more traditional form of corporate giving: writing that big cheque and delivering it to one’s favoured cause.  For sure, there’s a feel-good factor but, in the long term, is it really having an impact or changing indicators such as poverty?

It was interesting that – in the same week I attended a lecture by the enthusiastic Carol Cone – Peter Buffett (son of Warren, who was gifted a foundation by his parents) wrote in The New York Times about his crisis of confidence in philanthropy.  His alternative is not very discernible, but he has opened an interesting debate and his is article is worth a read.

1.Catherine (back right) and some of her Columbia classmates pose at the Alma Mater statue on the university’s campus.

Catherine (back right) and some of her Columbia classmates pose at the Alma Mater statue on the university’s campus.

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