30 Jul

CSR: does it have to be brand relevant?

I had an interesting chat this morning, with a lady from the RNIB, about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and the funds it generates for them, and for charities in general.

If you can’t already tell, by the way I write, I’m quite a cynical chap. To my mind, companies – particularly large corporates – only take part in CSR schemes to improve their brand image, and because they have to as all of their competitors are doing likewise.

Ultimately, this isn’t too much of a bad thing: regardless of the motives of the company donating, the charity/ies still benefit from much needed funds/support.

However, I’m interested to know if the schemes whereby there’s a link between the company raising funds/offering support and the charity they’re supporting, do better than the ones where there’s no link at all.

Roughly a year ago, I approached all of the leading toilet paper brands with an idea for a Crohn’s disease charity (if you know about Crohn’s disease, you’ll know that there’s a relevant link there). It was an idea designed to raise awareness of the disease and shift rolls of toilet paper, or – in a sector with little brand loyalty – give people a real reason to use one toilet paper over another.
The idea was roundly dismissed by all brands, not on the basis that it didn’t work (although this may have been their underlying reason), but because ‘we already have our chosen charities and don’t plan on looking at any others’.

When you looked at the charities these companies had chosen, they were all big organisations and fantastic causes, but none of them bore any relevance to toilet paper, bathrooms, toiletries in general – not even the most tenuous link.
It was as if the names of charities had just been pulled from a hat on the basis of ‘hmmmm…. yup, this one will do. This charity will make us look good this year’.

Coming back to the RNIB, I was sure that they were working in partnership with a dog food brand, in respect of that brand raising funds to train guide dogs. I’ve looked this up and can’t seem to find such a partnership. However, if it exists/existed, that would be the perfect example of a brand using CSR for more than just profile raising, and – because this campaign would at least make a bit of sense – I bet it would do well.

Again, charities still benefit from CSR, but it would be nice if large corporates were less transparent in simply seeing it as pure profile raising, or even a necessity, and put some real thought into it. I’m sure the end result would be much better.

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