This is Pensaola Beach, awash with tar balls from the Deep Horizon Oil Spill.
Recently I ran across a phenomenal crowdsourcing initiative last week, Lego’s NXTLog Senior Solutions Challenge, which leverages robotic designs to create better living for the elderly. It was a brilliant blend of brand, cause and community that empowers customers to make a difference.
I could not help but wonder how can B Corps and nonprofits and general do-gooders leverage the power of new models like the collaborative economy to share and make great things happen?
Social good is no longer the domain of big donors or causes anymore, but we haven’t gotten much further than crowdfunding, social sharing, and participatory access to campaigns. There is a stiff arm between cause and community.
What if mission trips were something that anyone can take, regardless of faith? Or if you couldn’t participate in a full four week mission trip, could you offer a portion of your work to another person?
Can we build stronger volunteering platforms to allow people to intelligently make a difference when a crisis like the Oklahoma tornadoes or the Deep Horizon oil spill happens? In both of those instances individuals were turned away from making a difference because their unorganized presence created more rubbernecking than contribution. Right now it takes an organization like Crisis Commons to try and harness general volunteering and good will.
How about technology? Could people donate minutes or bandwidth to a region on a temporary basis? Or could a company share its Salesforce database with smaller nonprofit partners so they, too, might benefit from a top tier CRM solution?
You can see how collaborative model could offer significant progress to the cause space. Yet, here we are, playing the same game.
Customers want brands to invest in marketing, that much is clear. There’s enough data out there that shows that people love brands that invest in their community’s general well being (skip ahead if you want to see the stats). Yet brands struggle weaving cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs into the fabric of their marketing communications.
If the last two marathon weeks of cause-related conferences are any indication, competition isn’t just something the for profit sector is thinking about – the cause community is too. How do we compete for market share? How do we compete for visibility? How do we compete for more money? Much has been said about competitiveness in the for profit sector, but what is the right role of competition in causes? Is there a right role?
Some would have full on competition, while others would have singular causes or coalitions within each sector. Are either of these right? They both are in a way. Competitive spirit definitely has its place: Finding the fastest, most efficient, most impactful way to resolve the problem the cause addresses.
Non-profits are not in business to make money. They are a business to be sure, but unlike a for-profit, which seeks to dominate markets and yield profits, a cause or social enterprise seeks to provide a solution. When a for-profit business is successful, it keeps its doors open for years and expands and keeps looking for more market share. When a non-profit is successful it should close its doors because its business – or mission – has been completed.
Are you competing just to raise the most money? Competing in the sense that a cause seeks to beat out its competition helps no one. It actually hurts the cause space by creating distractions and wasted resources.
Consider Komen for the Cure’s use of $1 million spent to legally enforce its rights to term “for the Cure.” How does that help anyone resolve health or larger issues? Worse, last year during The Cause Marketing Forum, Komen for the Cure proclaimed that it was their mission to reclaim the pink ribbon from other non-profits in the breast cancer space – organizations that they themselves support with grants! Imagine if that money and energy went towards finding the most innovative way to discover the most impactful solutions in breast cancer?
Competing to be the first to the finish line with the same approach as ten other organizations in your cause space isn’t the right kind of competition either. Wealthy founders and well meaning activists who think they can do it better without any unique theory of change are creating distractions too and just making more choices for donors, often paralyzing them. Yet another voice with nothing new to add creates a longer path to the answer.
The ability to see the problem and a unique answer to it (or a part of it) is at the heart of social entrepreneurship. Innovation means finding better faster ways to provide answers. In essence, this is the Ashoka model of social entrepreneurship where a changemaker seizes on a unique approach to a problem and deploys ambitious actions for wide-scale change.
For these social entrepreneurs, and for forward thinking non-profits, competition means cooperating with other organizations within the same space when they have to because they have their eye on the prize: an answer to whatever problem they’re trying to solve. That doesn’t necessarily mean sharing resources, but it does acknowledge that everyone is trying to reach the same end goal. Forming coalitions and cause verticals can have great impact if each organization is working on their own piece of the puzzle.
Ultimately, causes should want to end their business by resolving their problem. They shouldn’t want to be the organization who uses social media the most cleverly. They shouldn’t want to be the organization that raised the most money at their annual event. They should want to shutter their doors. Period.
What kind of cause are you? Are you competing to make change or just competing?
So many organizations feel like they need bring causes into their marketing, and similarly, need to add social media to the mix. It’s a bit of a checklist game, and thus the quick drive to add a contest with online voting or simply create a cause purchasing campaign with a popular charity like Komen or a safe one like autism.
What’s often missing is an understanding of how causes can positively impact a corporate strategy and culture. Whether it’s furthering technology issues, addressing some of the ills a product creates, or simply rewarding your employees or customers with an investment in a cause that they care about, a smart cause marketing effort can infuse a corporate brand with some well needed positive karma.
In that sense companies need to look at cause marketing — particularly if it involves engaging customers online — as a tool. It’s one that allows the company to demonstrate acts of corporate social responsibility, and enable its stakeholders to feel a part of the larger enterprise. Like any tool cause marketing needs to reflect corporate strategy, and thus help execute it.
So strategy helps justify cause marketing online, but also maximizes opportunities for success. At the same time, it needs those things that make any communication to a stakeholder work — authenticity, transparency into why the organization is doing it, and frankly, well thought out programs that don’t contradict the intent.
Many marketing and nonprofit people critiqued a recent Komen/KFC campaign from both sides of the fence (check out Bill Sledzik’s excellent discussion). The reality was the intent may have been outstanding on both parts: Fight the impact of fried chicken as applied to obesity via one of the most storied brands out there, combating a disease that weight gain provides a contributing factor, and do it with the largest donation ever to that brand ($8 million). But because the money was funded through fried chicken sales as opposed to grilled or other products, it seemed insincere.
Haagen-Dazs, which uses honey in its products, decided to combat the issue: “Honey bees are responsible for pollinating one-third of all the foods we eat, including many of the ingredients that define our all-natural ice creams, sorbets, frozen yogurt and bars.” This is a natural tie to the corporate mission, while creating an obvious corporate social responsibility tie. Haagen-Dazs launched a microsite and a Twitcause campaign through the #HelpHoneyBees hashtag, raising $7,000 in two days last November (”Bee Buzz generated: 643,748 tweets”).
Not bad from a branding standpoint, and you never really saw any criticism of Haagen-Dazs for this. It was an obvious win–win-win, for the bees, for customers and for the company. This was an optimal cause marketing program for the 21st century.
Triple Pundit reviewed a study that shows altruism amongst green product purchasers declines rapidly. In the write up, author BC Upham says, “The study suggests people who have spent money on things they perceive to benefit society as a whole may feel they have “done their good deed for the day” and thus are more likely to choose less altruistically when presented with other ethical quandaries.”
The University of Toronto study goes on to say in the new global ethic that the larger world seems to be espousing, people reactively give out of guilt. “This implies that virtuous acts can license subsequent asocial and unethical behaviors.” Then the study says, “Because purchasing green products affirms individuals’ values of social responsibility and ethical consciousness, we predict that purchasing green products will establish moral credentials, ironically licensing selfish and morally questionable behavior.”
Ironically, I think the study, while on target with its findings, has missed a critical component of the social change idea market: Cause fatigue. God knows all of us concerned with social change — green or not — certainly feel tons of pressure from many directions to help society. From local homelessness and domestic issues to global poverty and the environmental crisis, there’s an endless amount of nonprofits and social enterprises begging for our attention.
But how much give can the marketplace get? This study assumes that people will become “selfish” after acting green.
I wonder if that’s the case, or if people only have so much give in them, and when they give to any cause, they’ve taken a step towards meeting their quota. So then this study is wrong in that it implies that people need to do justify badness with goodness. Instead, they have fulfilled their capacity to give and have cause fatigue.
There’s definitely a corollary. Consider how much Haiti got, and then in comparison how little aid Chile received, in spite of a much larger earthquake. Yes, there’s a difference in economic wealth between the two countries, but it doesn’t account for this kind of disparity.
Sooner or later, people need to replenish their charitable spirit by taking care of themselves. Families matter, too, and so does personal welfare. You can’t get water from an empty bucket. Nor should people get a brow beating for doing that. Replenishment is a faith agnostic spiritual axiom.
The end message to successful change organizations is congratulations on your effectiveness. Do what you must to keep these people interested in your cause because loyalty and continued attention will be harder and harder to maintain. Effectiveness will continue to evolve, but in my mind, it includes understanding that there’s only so much give you can get.
Social media continues to impact businesses and nonprofits in unforeseen ways. Perhaps the greatest trend of the moment is the fusion of corporate and philanthropic interests, which in turn is producing growing pains and change. It’s likely that the requirements of online transparency will demand a new era of authenticity in corporate community investment efforts.
This trend results from demands for better corporate citizenship and community participation, transparency digressions, and frankly, very public cause marketing and corporate social responsibility programs that have exposed weaknesses in the social media realms.
It’s a problem that keeps coming up, and won’t go away. This will force organizations and companies to become much more mindful about how they invest in their communities.
This discussion is one that I’ve been having piecemeal with many people, in and outside of Zoetica, from cohorts Kami Huyse and Beth Kanter to change-minded folks like Alex Bornkessel, Allyson Kapin, Dan Morrison and Amy Sample Ward. I want to thank each of them for our ongoing dialogue, and directly or indirectly helping synthesize this post. My purpose in publishing this is soliciting feedback to evolve this authenticity theory. Please sound off.
The Current Authenticity Situation
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Ninety percent of companies cannot discern the difference between cause marketing and corporate social responsibility. Altruism often fails or is not thought out. In reality, most companies think, “Yeah, we’ll give some money to charity,” and let their executives figure out which ones. In the social media world, now they just outsource it to their communities (in both good and bad ways).
We must accept this level of understanding and approach CSR/cause marketing in a manner that raises the general level of ethics at play. In either case, social media continues exposing weaknesses in cause marketing, which will force such initiatives to become more CSR-oriented.
Moving forward, regardless of purpose, companies need to become much more authentic in their community investments. Authenticity means instead of simply throwing money at a cause or contest, they would directly address their missions, or the problems directly/indirectly created by their business. A third category — family — would be the causes that impact their employees, such as healthcare.
By being much more mindful in their cause initiatives, companies become better community citizens. And frankly, their online communities of interest will start demanding it.
Three Forms of Authenticity in Community Investment
Mindful authenticity in corporate community investment manifests itself in three ways:
Mission: Every company tries to market something. In doing so they have a mission and a product or service that fulfills a need. As such, authenticity dictates that the company invest in a community in a manner that relates to their core competency and also their marketing initiatives.
This is much more important for cause marketing initiatives. For example, if a company’s mission is information technology oriented, then literacy and education are obvious investments. So is poverty, and ensuring that the digital divide gets conquered. But investing everything the company had in cancer research makes no sense as an IT company’s strategic investment. It would for a healthcare oriented company.
Problem: In life we all create wreckage, both directly and indirectly. Some do less, some do more. In the environmental sense, every person has a carbon footprint. Thus it’s safe to say every company impacts the community in some negative ways.
Authenticity here dictates acknowledgment of impact, and actions to address the damage. For example, Exxon Mobile may want to make a greater investment in green energy than a trifle $100 million investment. Or instead of allocating $20 million for Pepsi Refresh, Pepsi would take a few million dollars to support causes addressing obesity issues as well as investing in reusable container technologies.
Family: Right now I would classify 90 percent of corporate community investments in this category, and that’s a mistake. Many of the crowd-sourced contest initiatives go wayward in this sense, too… Why? Because most of the investments are not thought-out and represent haphazard donations. They don’t acknowledge the corporate mission or the problems the company creates.
That being said, we all have or are employees. Companies represent big families, and in that sense it’s right to take a portion of donatable funds, and invest in real human issues like autism research or homelessness.
The right formula of mission, problem and family needs to be weighed intelligently by each organization. But that’s where the growth comes. Because blindly investing in family causes, or solely focusing on mission based initiatives causes an organization to stray from its community. Given today’s social media environment, at some point a cry will come for more balanced investment approaches.
What do you think about authenticity in corporate social responsibility?