Charitable efforts can be overlooked without continuing commitment and deep involvement by your company

The 2007 PR Week/Barkley Public Relations Cause Survey reported that an overwhelming 90.7 percent of respondents said it’s important for companies to support causes and charities. Names like Lee National Denim Day, Yoplait’s Saving Lids to Save Lives and Product RED are raising consumer awareness and making the connection between doing business and doing good more than ever before. If you’ve bought a pink KitchenAid gadget or a bottle of Newman’s Own salad dressing, you’ve bought a cause-related item. Expectations among consumers are becoming extraordinarily high for corporate social responsibility and giving back to the community.

Even if you’re not doing cause-related marketing on a national level, there are a few key elements to a good corporate citizenship strategy and that can be woven into your property’s community relations efforts.

Creating a positive profile

First, does your program have absolute authenticity-in that it truly demonstrates what your company cares about? It can be easy to hand over a big stunt check, buy a table at an event or put your logo on the back of a t-shirt, but it’s much more difficult to make a long-term, sustainable commitment over time to a cause that’s deeply connected to your business philosophy.

In fact, according to the Cause Survey, consumers bring a healthy dose of skepticism to social responsibility, with 24 percent of respondents saying they believe companies are motivated “by a desire to get publicity.” That’s slightly more than the 20 percent who said companies give back “to help the charity” or the 22 percent who said it’s “to demonstrate what [the company] cares about.” So it’s up to you to demonstrate that your business is in it for the right reasons, you’re in it to stay and that your good works come from the heart.

Next, consider if your employees are involved. The best programs engage employees-not just as volunteers, but with causes that speak to the issues most meaningful to them. When they’re involved, they can be powerful internal and external advocates and take great pride in working for a company that cares.

More and more, on-campus recruiters are being asked about a company’s corporate social responsibility programs, which is evidence that’s also factoring into the decision-making process of potential employees. Remember Texaco’s longtime sponsorship of the Metropolitan Opera radio and TV broadcasts? Maybe Texaco had a solid business rationale for this partnership and maybe their employees were great fans of the arts and specifically opera. But on the surface, opera would not appear to be the best way to make a great connection with your typical employee. So in considering your overall giving strategy, consider employees as part of the equation.

Making real efforts known

The adage “Think Global-Act Local” articulates another best practice in corporate social responsibility. Sharing your philanthropic wealth in your own backyard gives your property a local presence where you may need it most-right in your hometown. For example, the Susan G. Komen Foundation has national-level sponsorships and also local sponsorship opportunities. If you want to have a high profile at your local Race for the Cure, you’ll want to be sure you are involved as a local race sponsor-not just as a donor to the national group. Your support of the community where you live and work can gain instant recognition with your employees, your guests and the opinion leaders closest to your business. That’s not to say that your cause can’t have regional or national impact, only that its first beneficiaries should be those closest to home.

Speaking of gaining recognition, you won’t get it unless you tell your story. While there is a fine balance between sharing the facts of your philanthropy program and skewing perception that you’re in it for the PR value, if you have a program with authenticity, one that your employees are identified with as volunteers and one that benefits your local community, then you have the all the underpinning of a program with credibility. In that case, even the crustiest reporter will have to acknowledge when a company is putting its money where its mouth is in social responsibility.

Finally, when developing your charitable giving strategy, choose charities that make good mutual partners-organizations that are proud to stand up publicly to say your property supports their efforts, that have close-to-home impact or that have opportunities to engage your employees as volunteers. It’s a two-way street, and in the best non-profit/business relationships, both parties can reap tremendous rewards.

The PR Week/Barkley Cause Survey asked consumers this question: “Have you ever purchased a particular brand because you know that brand supports a cause you believe in?” That number has risen dramatically in just one year, from 64 percent “yes” responses in 2006 to 72.4 percent “yes” responses in 2007. So reputation-based ROI can translate into actual ROI if you pick the right cause for your property or company, stick with it and craft a strong public relations plan around it. Your business may benefit, your community will benefit and you’ll feel good about doing it.

Note: The survey results cited were published in PR Week (, October 22, 2007.