Corporate Altruism: The Blurring of the Lines Between CSR and Cause Marketing by Kami Watson Huyse and Beth Kanter
Aligning with a cause is a great way for a for-profit company to both raise its profile while doing something good for society at large. For nonprofits and causes, having the right corporate partner can leverage the impact of the social change work.
Associating a product with a social or environmental cause people care about is a popular marketing tactic with consumers. More than two in five consumers bought such a product in the past year, according to the “2010 Cone Cause Evolution Study.” And according to that research 75% donate to a company identified nonprofit, ilustrating that corporate altruism is not only good for the bottom line, but also good for society.
Cause Marketing Gone Bad?
However, the ways that companies and causes have aligned in the marketplace have ranged from the sublime to plain old slimy. Nonprofits need to consider, should we partner with companies? If so, how? And those that choose poorly are subject to being the conduits to green washing, pink washing, and any other kind of washing you can imagine. When the accusations start flying, it can get ugly fast.
Take for example, “Buckets for the Cure” fund-raising campaign where Susan G. Komen for the Cure teamed up with KFC (formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken). For each $5 bucket (pink!) of fried chicken, KFC donated 50 cents to Susan G. Komen for the Cure and ultimately $4.2 million was donated (the largest ever breast cancer donation.) Others wondered whether Komen had read their own educational literature about the connection between high fat diets and breast cancer.
The Differences Between Cause Marketing and CSR
In companies, corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments and corporate foundations have risen up as a substantial field of practice – the good ones come complete with a theory of change or goals to make social change the priority. Many CSR programs subscribe to the ideas of the triple bottom-line: people, planet and profit. Meaning that all three must figure in to what the company does to be an authentic and generous corporate citizen.
On the other side, cause marketing has risen up as a way to sell more products, widgets or even ideas, with a non-profit or altruistic element to drive the program. The bottom line here usually rules the day; however there has been a move toward what we see as more CSR-like elements popping up in cause marketing programs.
The grand debate over CSR vs. cause marketing seems to be getting more blurry. So much so that the two are often confused and interchanged by those not deeply in the community, and most certainly by public relations departments and marketing. Could it be that it is not a question of either-or, but rather a question of a continuum? And if so, what are the different points on this continuum and what are the best practices for each?
These are real-world questions that go well beyond philosophy. The genie is out of the bag, companies and nonprofit causes will continue to co-exist. So, can we put down the weapons and look at how to do it better?
What are some of the best examples of CSR or Cause Marketing programs that use social media?
What are some of the worst examples?