Corporate Social Responsibility... is it not just a massive PR stunt?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can come in many forms but is inevitably about companies taking responsibility for their effect on the environment and playing their responsible part in society; a big part of that is fundraising for worthy causes.

It’s ironic that when organisations try to do the ‘right’ thing, many are criticised for just wanting to benefit from free PR.

This is especially true if it is a national business, with the general feeling being that they will never be a true part of the community. It is often referred to now as ‘brand generosity’ and research in 2016 revealed that 88% of UK consumers believe that brands are ‘completely selfish’, with 72% feeling that they just talk about themselves.

So which brands out there have proven this belief to be true?

Volkswagen’s emissions scandal did them no favours. Shortly after launching a large marketing campaign to promote the small emissions of their diesel cars, it was discovered that many diesel engines of VW cars sold had ‘defeated software’ that could detect when cars were being tested and change the performance of the engine to improve the results of the test.

And then there was Primark, an organisation that claimed it was possible to sell T-shirts for as little as £2 without comprising its ethics. In 2008, an investigation revealed that young children were found to be working in dirty and unpleasant surroundings, sewing beads onto clothing by candle-light.

However, there are brands that do CSR very well, and when it works it’s of benefit to everyone involved. Shoe company TOMS has a simple strategy. For every product purchased they will help a person in need. It works. Their Giving Team and Giving Partners work together to support sustainable and responsible programs for communities in need.

These are huge brands that get a large amount of media attention. Smaller organisations may not ever get this amount of publicity, good or bad, but they should still consider the impact it has for brand awareness in their local areas.

Many organisations are now introducing corporate responsibility and sustainability programmes, linking into their wider business objectives. Done well, it can provide a positive social return.

CSR provides an opportunity for mutually beneficial objectives in the local area. It helps to build a positive reputation, as well as generate awareness of who you are and what your company stands for. Increasingly, organisations are steering away from ad-hoc donations and moving towards investing in community initiated projects that create a long-term impact.

Providing time and resource is also an excellent community investment method. Employee volunteering opportunities allow your workforce to contribute to projects that matter to them. Community Interest Company Employee Volunteering state that from their recent activities 95% felt that volunteering had a positive influence on them.

Employees are more likely to feel satisfied in their role, and will be proud to work for an organisation that has a commitment to the community and is ‘responsible’.

I have worked with many organisations where CSR has worked well and this has always been because it forms part of a clear marketing and PR strategy. CSR has to align with visions and values and should form part of an ethos that everyone in the company buys into.

Whether you are planning to donate to a charity, set out on a mission to make a positive change, become more ethical, or support a local community group, make sure it aligns to your organisational goals and that it will be beneficial for all parties involved.