Evidence shows people expect authenticity when it comes to corporate responsibility. A corporate social engagement expert who authored some of the latest research weighs in.
Changing Our World led a new study of Americans aged 18-65, exploring people’s perceptions of and expectations for authenticity in corporate citizenship. Mandy shares the findings of the report, The Authenticity Opportunity, in this interview.
A: The primary takeaway of the study is really quite simple: companies must back up their talk about the causes they support and the good they do with action. We hope corporate leaders do two key things with this information:
We know most citizenship practitioners want to follow these best practices, but they often face pressures to do otherwise. We hope this report provides them with the evidence to support their case for a strategic approach.
A: Donating money to a cause is seen as the most impactful way for a company to support a cause and using the company’s skills and expertise to address a cause ranks just behind that.
The emphasis on cash giving reflects an acknowledgement that cash is one of the greatest resources many companies have, and it’s a resource that matches almost every social need.
It is also a reaction to too much lip service–people are wary of companies aligning themselves to causes in ads and public statements and not backing them up with investment in the cause.
But, the near-equal weight people placed on using a company’s skills and expertise shows that the public is sophisticated and is encouraging the trend towards greater integration of social good efforts across the business. People will recognize and reward corporate efforts that use the company’s unique business assets to address an issue, meaning companies can and should maximize their cash contributions by aligning them to the business and deploying resources from across the company.
A: First, I’d say that many, many companies are authentically engaging with social issues. Most every company that I’ve had the privilege to work with over the years has come to Changing Our World because they are looking for a better way to have a greater impact. And, while business impact is an important calculation, social impact is a primary goal.
But some companies do make missteps and, unfortunately, these missteps reflect poorly on the entire field–I think there are a few common reasons:
Our research shows that consumers and employees are hungry for more and they are sophisticated enough to reward companies for their approach, not just the headlines we might assume they’d respond to.
A: We often get asked this question and there are many that quickly come to mind like Patagonia, CVS Health, and Levi. One company we work with and really admire is Xylem. Xylem is a water technology company that is committed to “solving water” by creating innovative solutions to address water issues around the globe. Xylem Watermark, the company’s corporate citizenship program, demonstrates its commitment to providing safe water resources for communities in need and educating people about water issues. Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations and an employee volunteer program, Xylem is leveraging its people, products, technology and cash resources to address the world’s greatest water challenges.
It is evident to us that sustainability and solving water aren’t just initiatives at Xylem, but are core to the company’s overall business strategy and an integral part of its purpose and culture. Evidently, Xylem’s partners and employees agree: they are some of the company’s biggest advocates, which in turn should signal to those who don’t know the company as well that it is authentically committed to making a difference.
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