A Look Back at Corporate Philanthropy and Social Responsibility in 2012

By: Mark Dority, Director of Marketing

Like every year before, 2012 was filled with scandals. Not just political or celebrity-related, but corporate too  the results of which have impacted industries across the board from retail to banking to insurance. The companies affected didn’t just lose money when the public reacted to negative stories and news, those companies also suffered from a massive “trust hit,” losing credibility in the eyes of their customers, stakeholders and media as businesses willing to do whatever it takes to grow the bottom line.

While I don’t want this post to focus on miscreants or what companies did wrong this year, I do think it’s important to look back at mistakes – big or small – in order to identify what we can all do better in the coming year.

Let’s start with trust

A customer’s trust in a company is one of the most important factors in making a decision to interact with a given company or brand – or not. Customer trust is a major brand asset, yet trust in large businesses and financial institutions continues to remain at low levels. In a recent Gallup poll, only 21% of consumers surveyed said they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in both the banking and big business sectors.

I’m not singling out specific sectors. It’s the consumers who have spoken and it’s the consumers who will vote with their hearts and wallets in 2013 when it comes to supporting companies they trust because of corporate philanthropy and CSR efforts.

Making the switch from ‘Them’ to ‘Us’

Regardless of whether they’ve suffered from the “trust hits” I mentioned above, a lot of companies are turning to CSR programs that now include cause-related loyalty marketing initiatives, to show their customers that they’re truly making a positive impact and holding themselves accountable to their customers. And whilst the following are holiday-season related, they’re all great examples of big businesses putting their corporate philanthropy efforts (and dollars) where their mouths are:

American Express Small Business Saturday“: Created in 2010 by American Express, Small Business Saturday aims to encourage support of local businesses on the heels of big-box Black Friday. American Express cardholders who spend $25 at a registered small business receive a $25 credit on their next statement – a win for the consumer, the small business and American Express.

Macy’s Believe“: Now in its fifth year, Macy’s “Believe” gives children of all ages an opportunity to write a letter to Santa Claus. For each letter dropped off at the store’s Santa Mail letter box or submitted online, Macy’s will donate $1 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Toys “R” Us Give Back with Shaq“: Shaquille O’Neal has partnered with Toys “R” Us for the ninth annual holiday fundraising campaign, “Give Back with Shaq.” The campaign encourages shoppers to make cash donations in stores nationwide and online to support the Marine Toys for Tots Foundation. New this year, online shoppers can also purchase a toy for donation through “Shaq’s Santa Sack’s Christmas Wish List,” which will go directly to a child in need in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy.

So what have learned about Corporate Philanthropy and CSR this year?

Companies looking to take their CSR programs to the next level are looking for new ways to make a measurable difference to the local, national or international community, and be able to measure that impact and ROI of their corporate giving. The programs of yesteryear involved positioning a company as more likeable and socially responsible largely through charitable donations, but whose impact was left unmeasured.

The CSR of today is represented by those companies that are having an impact in the communities they serve, building trust and relationships with consumers. They are the companies that are encouraging their customers and members to interact with their brand and the causes they support, like this tongue-in-cheek cause marketing campaign or listening to a young customer’s opinion.

What will the CSR of 2013 look like?

CSR efforts will continue building upon what is already happening today, but will focus more heavily on empowering consumers through democratized transactional giving and cause-related loyalty marketing (CLM) principles. That means putting the choice of giving into the hands of consumers, giving companies the power of engagement with their customers and enabling companies to reward customers with charitable donations to millions of causes all around the world!

At KULA, we are proud to work with those companies who are transforming their CSR initiatives through democratized transactional giving and cause-related loyalty marketing campaigns whose impact can be very accurately measured.

Consumers win. Companies win. Causes win.

That’s what we’ve learned this year, and what a great way to end it!

What have you learned about corporate philanthropy or cause-related marketing this year? We would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, Happy New Year from all of us at KULA Causes!