What’s “Cause” Got to Do with You?

Signs of social consciousness in business are everywhere

By Joanne Henry, SCMP, President, PR for Good; Past President, IABC Minnesota

Yesterday’s structured Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs are table stakes in today’s reality. Activist consumers, employees and younger generations want business to help solve societal problems while they serve up products and services.

In 2020, it’s an employee’s market with many jobs unfilled, and fierce competition for bright, younger workers. The current demand-supply ratio means prospective employees can be much pickier about choosing places to work where they like the culture and values. There’s a great deal of both quantitative and qualitative research on how younger employees want to work for a company that shares their values and lets them integrate them into their work life. In a Deloitte 2019 millennial survey, two thirds of respondents said they prefer a company where they can use their skills to volunteer for a cause through their workplace.

Creating volunteer opportunities that also benefit recruitment? Check.

What about retention? Employees who volunteer together, stay together. Deloitte’s research found that millennial employees who stay with their company for five years or longer were 88% satisfied with their sense of purpose, higher than pay or other benefits. Increasingly, employees – and also customers – expect companies to stand up for important social causes and to demonstrate their role as a good citizen in significant actions.

And customer sentiment? While price and quality remain the primary reasons for purchasing, an increasing number say they believe companies have a social responsibility beyond making quality products and treating employees well. Consumer companies are the most visible in well-publicized social initiatives. Burger King is running some riveting ads about anti-bullying. Nike was one of the first to publicly support Colin Kaepernick who “took a knee” in protest of the treatment of blacks. Nike later defended the rights of women athletes for equal pay after the Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup.

Burger King is running some riveting ads about anti-bullying. Nike was one of the first to publicly support Colin Kaepernick who “took a knee” in protest of the treatment of blacks. Nike later defended the rights of women athletes for equal pay after the Women’s Soccer team won the World Cup.

There are plenty of examples that demonstrate how “cause marketing” is being woven into business strategies. A small insurance company in Chicago organizes meaningful day-long volunteer activities with different causes each time for employees to share the experience. At Allianz, Twin Cities based employees choose the local charitable causes where their business unit will invest, and they volunteer on top of that. The Great Clips Great Deeds™ program operates at the franchiser level with Clips of Kindness, Wigs for Kids and other works.

There is a solid business case for pursuing social good along with profits. Data shows companies that are purpose-driven fare better in revenue, profits, and stock price. If you are a smaller, privately held firm, your positive brand reputation will also help you weather the inevitable missteps. There is one important caveat, though; you must be authentic.

Data shows companies that are purpose-driven fare better in revenue, profits, and stock price. If you are a smaller, privately held firm, your positive brand reputation will also help you weather the inevitable missteps.

Authenticity is crucial for a company jumping into the social good arena. If your ads and slogan say one thing and your practices another, employees, customers and others will quickly see through it. Expect a very public backfire. Instead, choose causes thoughtfully that bubble up from employee passions or, be ready to serve where your operations provide the tools to make a difference. When Target decides to bring food and water to a disaster-hit community, you know they have what it takes to deliver. That doesn’t mean your smaller company can’t send a truck of toilet paper and diapers to with employees to hand it out. The community served – and your employees – will never forget it.

In their session Corporate Social Responsibility Shifts to Collective Social Impact at CONVERGENCE Summit 2020, Joanne Henry and Brian Numainville, President, NUMINSIGHTS LLC, will address the trends in “social” collaborative programs and the organizational success they can deliver.

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