“It is more difficult to give money away intelligently than to earn it in the first place.”
– Andrew Carnegie
At the close of the nineteenth century, as the world’s wealthiest man, Andrew Carnegie rededicated himself to philanthropy and community involvement. Only scratching the surface, he established more than 3,000 public libraries, endorsed working family education, and provided pension security for university faculty. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest philanthropist the world has ever known, boasting his name across museum facades, esteemed institutions of higher education, and the world’s most famous music hall. If figures as bold as Carnegie can leave a roadmap, a lasting legacy, for social responsibility, surely corporate institutions can follow.
The history of political America is rich with stories, legends, and opinions. In recent years, a vibrant conversation regarding corporate personality has taken on new depths and intricacies. No matter the political stance on whether corporations are people, surely we can agree corporations consist of people; people from diverse backgrounds who span the political, socioeconomic, and idealistic spectrums and have stories to tell, dreams to pursue, and families to love. The essence of being human lies in these beautifully complicated distinctions. Unfortunately, abuse of these distinctions for profit by corporations has stained the work many major corporate strategists are pursuing.
A corporation’s role in society is a pressure point moving from the fringes to the forefront of C-level considerations, positioning philanthropic giving and partnership as a growing portion of marketing stratagem. In such a connected world, when earned media across social channels is valued greater than ever, consumer relation toward a product can enhance a brand’s social footprint. Having a humanized extended purpose, dedicated to connecting your brand to social progress, thus building trust between customers and marketing strategy, is a crucial component to elevating a brand to the next level.
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Millennial CSR Strategies
The younger generations are a growing, soon-to-be-dominant portion of the consumer population. Moreover, younger generations are increasingly skeptical of marketing and advertising. In response, brands have adopted and improved their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies to relate to new customers.
“People are getting more sophisticated about the connection between corporate responsibility and business strategy, and rightly so,” says Stanley S. Litow, vice president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs for International Business Machines Corp. and president of the IBM International Foundation. “If you are strategic and analytic, being a good corporate citizen can also produce real sustainable value for your company.” Success in any field requires an ability to adapt and evolve. Identifying those pressure points that appeal to your targeted customer base and shifting corporate investment toward authentic impact on those points can drive sales in new ways.
No matter the political stance on whether corporations are people, surely we can agree corporations consist of people; people from diverse backgrounds who span the political, socioeconomic, and idealistic spectrums and have stories to tell, dreams to pursue, and families to love.
Eyeglass disruptor Warby Parker embraces this philosophy of using CSR strategies as a vehicle for driving sales with their “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” program. When each pair of glasses is purchased, a portion of the cost is donated to any one of their philanthropic partners. These partners train men and women in the developing world to give basic eye exams and sell glasses at locally affordable prices. Thus far, the program is responsible for distributing over three million pairs of glasses throughout the developing world.
Authentic CSR at Work
The key is confidence. Are customers confident their purchase will be beneficial? Are shareholders confident their investment is safe and lucrative? Are managers and executives confident their decision-making matrix is well-founded and leading toward long-term growth? Developing this shift toward corporate social responsibility can encounter its share of speedbumps but leading with a resolute, top-down, voice for social and environmental good minimizes these speed bumps to mere hiccups.
“It can’t just be the pet project of the CEO,” says Jim Smith, president and chief executive of Thomson Reuters Corp. “Your corporate responsibility initiatives need to be tied to your business mission. When you do that, there’s an authenticity that resonates with the external world, and a galvanizing effect inside the firm because you’re going after issues your people care about.”
When brands embrace crucial CSR strategies, even in hard times, the long-term, resolute voice rings loud. Starbucks saw short lines in stores and declines in sales. Despite temptation to drop its commitment to local coffee farmers and ethical growing practices in coffee-producing countries, Starbucks leaned on its CSR commitments and saw themselves out of the red. Corporations and their brands thrive on the backs of the people who support them. They exist in a world that supports us all.