Tag Archives: society

Should We Look At Brand Philanthropy In A New Way?


Whether brand philanthropy should be included as part of a marketing strategy has always been a contentious topic. Arguments from both sides can be valid and our opinion is that it really depends on a company’s intention in the first place. Part of my own previous work experience was managing the brand philanthropy for a large Irish financial company. As such, it was an element of our overall CSR Programme.

Part of my role was making sure that the general public knew about the good we were doing and as a result – how our brand was an integral part of the communities in which our people operated. At times, people would complain that we were focusing on promoting ourselves and wasting funds that could be donated.

My response was always that the awareness was mutually beneficial for us and the cause. Sharing information about what we did for the greater good worked both ways as the non-profit gained much-needed awareness of their cause and their impact. In my experience, many non-profits struggle with the communication of their impact on society which can cost them in the long-run.

A discussion about impact measurement that I had with a few fellow marketers recently has prompted me to write this post about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way.

First of all, let me say that I believe companies can reap the benefits of supporting causes without appearing to be self-serving by using community outreach methods. Ways to do this would include:

  • Considering causes that naturally align with the company’s core values
  • Undertaking initiatives that allow staff partake in the cause’s work
  • Developing internship programmes for local students to work with you
  • Assisting a non-profit partner’s operation through shared business learnings
  • Matching employees’ donations / time given to local causes

At the end of the day, it’s about a company being authentic. There are always ways to give back that does not look to be disingenuous – it’s about doing the right thing. If the public are prompted to talk about it, and do – all the better,

Good brand philanthropy means doing well and doing good.

The following might sound a little harsh but it is probably fair to say that brand philanthropy hasn’t really changed over the years for most companies. The model has been – make loads of money and give some away for reputational credit (and tax purposes) and get a photo in the press with a big cheque for awareness.

Unfortunately, at times, the business owner’s intention is not really to solve a societal problem but to look good, to optimise profits or just to ‘tick’ a giving box.. When the recipient is not measuring impact either – nothing is really changing.

Whereas one could argue that this is an acceptable arrangement between a local charity and a small business owner, the problem is whether it is really having a needle-moving impact on a societal issue?

Wouldn’t it be better if an SME owner, conscious that if the business is doing extremely well, they should be doing good on a larger scale? If so, genuine brand philanthropy would have a long-term impact on societal challenges, as the business grows.

How about looking at brand philanthropy in a new way. Imagine if companies focused on bringing innovative products to market that also reduced a social problem. For instance – could Tesla’s self-driving cars be seen as a social cause e.g. reducing accidents / road deaths. Could Apple use the iPhone for natural disaster alerts? Could these be seen as contributions towards societal welfare?

Here’s another idea for you. Look at TV stations – other than a TV Licence (in Ireland) most programming is paid for by advertising i.e. the viewer gets to see programmes for free. Would it be beyond the bounds of possibility for those advertisers to allocate a portion of their ad spend to promoting needy causes. It wouldn’t cost them anything extra and the general public would be instantly aware of the support given.

A new way of giving back through corporate citizenship

We all appreciate that brands today must try and communicate with their audience through a multitude of channels and try to maintain a relationship. More and more, people are expecting something in return for their relationship/giving their attention. A company, making a public commitment to good corporate citizenship is one way of doing that.

Another way for brands to give back would be to help others donate by harnessing the power of social media. What if a company, as part of a social media campaign, donated an amount based on the volume of engagement a message received online. Possibly in conjunction with the advertising idea above this is another way of bringing people the ability to make a difference – especially if they can’t afford to do so themselves.

By all accounts, the so-called millennials generation are forcing brands to focus on genuine philanthropy. As a result, we see evidence of more brands starting to focus on causes that matter. A win-win-win situation occurs as a result. A brand’s relationship with its customers is strengthened, the cause benefits financially and the public feel better about themselves.

If this is the case, then us marketers need to climb out of our regular thinking box of lead generation, social media, website redesign, offline campaigns etc. and try to understand our business’ impact on society better.

Tips for making philanthropy part of a business model

The future is bright for brands that make philanthropy (CSR) part of their business model and not just an element of marketing / HR. They could go about this by:

Aligning core mission and values

Simply put, companies can ensure that their product / service and their mission and values are aligned and can be measured from a societal point of view

Ensuring philanthropy is not a campaign

If you cannot measure the impact of your CSR activity then it is not worthwhile. Measuring the results of a brand campaign is not what is required by society

Not having a short-term focus on community outreach activity

Mutually beneficial programmes are just that – mutually beneficial for the community and the company. Making a lasting impact on a community will take a long time to reach an entire community so short-term blasts won’t achieve much.

Developing long-term budgets

Funding models that delve deeper and not broader will work the best. Grant giving that spreads the benefit across many causes will be less effective than one that focuses on lasting impact.

Creating a self-sustaining revenue stream

At least one goal of the collaboration should be to create a situation where the cause develops a self-sustaining revenue stream to ensure long-term impact.

Creating a workplace philanthropy programme

Give employees a say in what cause is to be partnered. Ensure the cause agrees transparency and accountability, agree a suitable project and measure outputs / outcomes separately.


Nothing has changed in that everything is in a state of constant change.

Wealth is being accumulated faster than ever, but also how it is deployed for social purposes is also changing. Brands are beginning to realise that they must contribute to solve societal issues if they are to survive. Donors are realising that new models are required to ensure that the impact from philanthropy is real.

A commitment to societal impact presents challenges for non-profits and for-profits alike and it needs to be tackled head-on, together. Not only will this benefit society in general but also the people that we want to help in the first place.

“Thank you for reading our blog post today” – Aidan & Jim.

 Would you like us to notify you, by email, when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here. Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we might grab a coffee, cheers. Jim – O’C&K

CSR (corporate social responsibility), is not only for large companies.

CSR - hands

CSR is for SMEs also but, it is not sponsorship or philanthropy.

First of all, let us outline what our understanding of what Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), is. We believe that it applies to any company’s activity where they assess and take responsibility for their effect on the environment and their social impact.  It is not a regulatory function and therefore is an entirely voluntary route that a company, big or small, may choose to follow.

Yes, we are all aware of examples of companies that describe marketing activity as CSR, in an attempt to enhance brand reputation with the media, the public and their stakeholders. That being said, many large companies do devote real time and money towards environmental programmes and social initiatives that benefit staff, customers and the communities in which they operate. Here is a list of good examples and winners from the 2014 Chambers Ireland Corporate Social Responsibility Awards.

CSR activity is usually associated with large companies, but it shouldn’t be – it is the motivation for undertaking the CSR activity that counts – O’C&K.

Usually, large companies can run high-profile CSR programmes because they are probably better resourced to do so, in terms of people and funds. We would be of the opinion that size shouldn’t matter as to whether a company invests in CSR or not. The real considerations should be the why and how it can do so.

Whatever size it is, a company has an impact on its local community, be it through employment, purchasing power, sustainability or just social. Accordingly, a company can decide to integrate local concerns into its business activities in order to ‘play its part’ in addressing societal needs. Some might consider this to be a ‘good deed’ strategy, but in fact it is a sound business strategy of being relevant to customers. At the end of the day, it might well become a competitive advantage.

CSR is not sponsorship or philanthropy.

As referred to on many previous posts on this blog, sponsorship is a joint marketing activity between a rights holder and a sponsor (usually a company). There is a mutually beneficial ‘value exchange’ for the benefit of a defined audience. It is a planned business transaction with all that that entails – goals, audience engagement, objectives, communications, milestones, measurement, reviews etc.

A business will use sponsorship as a marketing tool and will expect a return on the investment. It is not a ‘tool’ for looking after the needs of a local community, contrary to popular beliefs.

On the other side of the coin, there is a popular belief held by companies, which is that CSR is associated with philanthropy. We acknowledge that the precise meaning of philanthropy could be argued ad infinitum, but in our opinion, it is definitely not corporate giving or corporate citizenship.

In its simplest form, we take it to mean, the desire to increase the well-being of others, expressed by a donation of funds to a cause. No return of monetary value is expected, by the philanthropist. Without appearing pedantic about the description, we believe that under no circumstance can CSR be seen as philanthropic activity.

By confusing a CSR strategy with philanthropy, businesses automatically presume they will gain an enhanced brand reputation and increased trust from customers and employees. However, it may be a waste of time or it might even backfire on the brand because these benefits are not automatic. It is the perceived ‘fit’ and impact of a partnership with an NGO that earns these benefits.

Other benefits might include, improved risk management, increased staff motivation or even the provision of new business opportunities. But our point here is, if you are going to implement a CSR strategy as part of your business, make sure you understand what it is not.

What could NGOs bring to the corporate table?

Sometimes non-governmental organisations (NGOs) get caught up on fundraising for their cause and neglect fundraising for their own financial sustainability. Because of this, they don’t do the homework in order to find a commercial partner. As a result, they often don’t appreciate what value they can bring to a company.

Also, because companies (especially SMEs) will not have the time to think about and plan for CSR activity, they don’t see an NGO as a potential business partner. For example, here are some elements that NGOs might take for granted, and that companies don’t consider.

  • NGOs have an existing stakeholder group (potential audience for a company)
  • NGOs communicate in human language using stories (the audience believes in them)
  • NGOs can provide an element of ‘trust’ (in doing the right thing by society)
  • NGOs can bring new experiences and ideas (that relate to a company’s business)
  • NGO’s beliefs can intersect with a business (and may resonate with a particular audience)
  • NGOs can provide the vehicle for a company to impact positively on society

SMEs might use CSR differently than larger companies.

The majority of SME founders also manage the business, on a day to day basis. Because of this hands-on approach, they can be more in touch with the needs of their immediate community. So it is probably fair to say that they might have a different commitment to impacting on society, than that of a larger company.

Often this manifests itself by donations to local sports clubs, art societies or charitable groups. In fact they might not even call it CSR, but they do because they can react quicker due to their size and flexibility. Often, therefore, they can appear to be more ‘responsible’ than larger companies. SMEs might even argue that CSR is a license to operate a business in a local community.

Also, from an SME point of view – CSR can be much more of a personal experience. Being a smaller entity, relationships are key to an SME’s success, both internally and externally. It’s the usual ‘everybody knows everybody in town’, story. Obviously, the majority of employees are going to be local and they bring a further network of relationships to the table.

In such scenarios, you can imagine that the SME owner / manager has more opportunities to be more in touch with societal needs than his/her larger counterparts. It is also in their own interest that the local economy is vibrant and projects such as infrastructure improvements are undertaken.

Of course, it is also a factor that SMEs will have less funds to make available. However, in their own small way can play a positive role in the community e.g. allowing staff to volunteer, offering a premises for meetings, providing transport solutions etc.

In addition, as larger companies undertake a programme of CSR they might well insist that suppliers adhere to sustainability standards and measurements. In this way, reputational pressure on a larger company might well translate into pressure on a SME (supplier), whether they like it or not.

Tips and Timesavers.

Last year, O’C&K had the pleasure of contributing towards a publication written by Sandra Velthuis on behalf of The Wheel. The publication is called ‘financing your future – a guide to building a sustainable income for community and voluntary organisations’. In the preface, Deirdre Garvey, CEO refers to the funding challenge that organisations are experiencing, nowadays.

We received a copy last week and I am going to summarise a 10 step framework for action suggested therein, which is excellent. It is part of ‘doing the homework’ mentioned above and is the professional way that companies would expect an NGO to go about raising support.

  • Have an active board and articulate the organisation’s purpose clearly
  • Analyse your current resource profile in detail (income, expenditure, assets etc.)
  • Calculate how much you need, what you need it for and plan to make savings where possible
  • Generate as many options for income growth and diversification as possible
  • Assess all options, decide on a shortlist and undertake in-depth research on them
  • Develop an action plan and monitor progress, adapting where necessary.

As we say on our own website, here, there is a growing realisation by the corporate and the social sectors that they need to engage with each other more, in order to ensure a positive impact on society.

We believe that this changing landscape of social responsibility will transform the relationships between social and business partners into the future. Businesses need to be a little more like NGOs and NGOs need to be a little more like businesses.

“We hope you have enjoyed our marketing tips and timesavers blog” – Aidan & Jim.

Would you like to be notified by email when we publish new content? If so, just let us know by clicking here.

Of course, we can always meet face-to-face, just leave your details here and we can grab a coffeet, cheers.   Jim – O’C&K