Smarter Marketing Blog

Should We Look At Brand Philanthropy In A New Way?

perception-eyes-philanthropy

Whether brand philanthropy should be included as part of a marketing strategy has always been a contentious topic. Arguments from both sides can be valid and our opinion is that it really depends on a company’s intention in the first place. Part of my own previous work experience was managing the brand philanthropy for a large Irish financial company. As such, it was an element of our overall CSR Programme.

Part of my role was making sure that the general public knew about the good we were doing and as a result – how our brand was an integral part of the communities in which our people operated. At times, people would complain that we were focusing on promoting ourselves and wasting funds that could be donated.

My response was always that the awareness was mutually beneficial for us and the cause. Sharing information about what we did for the greater good worked both ways as the non-profit gained much-needed awareness of their cause and their impact. In my experience, many non-profits struggle with the communication of their impact on society which can cost them in the long-run.

A discussion about impact measurement that I had with a few fellow marketers recently has prompted me to write this post about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way.

First of all, let me say that I believe companies can reap the benefits of supporting causes without appearing to be self-serving by using community outreach methods. Ways to do this would include:

  • Considering causes that naturally align with the company’s core values
  • Undertaking initiatives that allow staff partake in the cause’s work
  • Developing internship programmes for local students to work with you
  • Assisting a non-profit partner’s operation through shared business learnings
  • Matching employees’ donations / time given to local causes

At the end of the day, it’s about a company being authentic. There are always ways to give back that does not look to be disingenuous – it’s about doing the right thing. If the public are prompted to talk about it, and do – all the better,

Good brand philanthropy means doing well and doing good.

The following might sound a little harsh but it is probably fair to say that brand philanthropy hasn’t really changed over the years for most companies. The model has been – make loads of money and give some away for reputational credit (and tax purposes) and get a photo in the press with a big cheque for awareness.

Unfortunately, at times, the business owner’s intention is not really to solve a societal problem but to look good, to optimise profits or just to ‘tick’ a giving box.. When the recipient is not measuring impact either – nothing is really changing.

Whereas one could argue that this is an acceptable arrangement between a local charity and a small business owner, the problem is whether it is really having a needle-moving impact on a societal issue?

Wouldn’t it be better if an SME owner, conscious that if the business is doing extremely well, they should be doing good on a larger scale? If so, genuine brand philanthropy would have a long-term impact on societal challenges, as the business grows.

How about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way. Imagine if companies focused on bringing innovative products to market that also reduced a social problem. For instance – could Tesla’s self-driving cars be seen as a social cause e.g. reducing accidents / road deaths. Could Apple use the iPhone for natural disaster alerts? Could these be seen as contributions towards societal welfare?

Here’s another idea for you. Look at TV stations – other than a TV Licence (in Ireland) most programming is paid for by advertising i.e. the viewer gets to see programmes for free. Would it be beyond the bounds of possibility for those advertisers to allocate a portion of their ad spend to promoting needy causes. It wouldn’t cost them anything extra and the general public would be instantly aware of the support given.

A new way of giving back through corporate citizenship

We all appreciate that brands today must try and communicate with their audience through a multitude of channels and try to maintain a relationship. More and more, people are expecting something in return for their relationship/giving their attention. A company, making a public commitment to good corporate citizenship is one way of doing that.

Another way for brands to give back would be to help others donate by harnessing the power of social media. What if a company, as part of a social media campaign, donated an amount based on the volume of engagement a message received online. Possibly in conjunction with the advertising idea above this is another way of bringing people the ability to make a difference – especially if they can’t afford to do so themselves.

By all accounts, the so-called millennials generation are forcing brands to focus on genuine philanthropy. As a result, we see evidence of more brands starting to focus on causes that matter. A win-win-win situation occurs as a result. A brand’s relationship with its customers is strengthened, the cause benefits financially and the public feel better about themselves.

If this is the case, then us marketers need to climb out of our regular thinking box of lead generation, social media, website redesign, offline campaigns etc. and try to understand our business’ impact on society better.

Tips for making philanthropy part of a business model

The future is bright for brands that make philanthropy (CSR) part of their business model and not just an element of marketing / HR. They could go about this by:

Aligning core mission and values

Simply put, companies can ensure that their product / service and their mission and values are aligned and can be measured from a societal point of view

Ensuring philanthropy is not a campaign

If you cannot measure the impact of your CSR activity then it is not worthwhile. Measuring the results of a brand campaign is not what is required by society

Not having a short-term focus on community outreach activity

Mutually beneficial programmes are just that – mutually beneficial for the community and the company. Making a lasting impact on a community will take a long time to reach an entire community so short-term blasts won’t achieve much.

Developing long-term budgets

Funding models that delve deeper and not broader will work the best. Grant giving that spreads the benefit across many causes will be less effective than one that focuses on lasting impact.

Creating a self-sustaining revenue stream

At least one goal of the collaboration should be to create a situation where the cause develops a self-sustaining revenue stream to ensure long-term impact.

Creating a workplace philanthropy programme

Give employees a say in what cause is to be partnered. Ensure the cause agrees transparency and accountability, agree a suitable project and measure outputs / outcomes separately.

Conclusion

Nothing has changed in that everything is in a state of constant change.

Wealth is being accumulated faster than ever, but also how it is deployed for social purposes is also changing. Brands are beginning to realise that they must contribute to solve societal issues if they are to survive. Donors are realising that new models are required to ensure that the impact from philanthropy is real.

A commitment to societal impact presents challenges for non-profits and for-profits alike and it needs to be tackled head-on, together. Not only will this benefit society in general but also the people that we want to help in the first place.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

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