By Liz Bardetti
Although more businesses are seriously engaging with corporate social responsibility (CSR), the public is becoming more skeptical of their efforts. In a recent survey, 52 percent of consumers said they need to see proof of a company’s CSR initiatives in order to believe them. Why is this happening? Unfortunately, it’s largely a case of a few companies ruining it for the rest of them.
Rather than just making a profit, 90 percent of consumers expect companies to address social and environmental issues. CSR builds trust with employees and consumers, but are companies interested in that for the right reasons? Are they genuinely interested in making a better world, or are they interested in the profits that come from increased employee engagement and customer trust? That’s where public skepticism starts.
As you might expect, this creates a tough time for businesses that genuinely care about CSR and making a difference in the world. They now face the challenge of effecting real change and convincing the public that they’re actually doing what they say.
In order to combat public skepticism, CEOs need to find a cause that they truly care about and commit to it on a personal level. Businesses often focus on differentiation through CSR efforts, which makes them stand out from others. What CSR should really affect is identification, which allows consumers to identify with a business and relate to its’ values. Perhaps that’s why Microsoft, so closely associated with CEO Bill Gates, is one of the highest ranked companies for CSR.
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.” - Warren BuffettCSR visions fail when goals are in direct conflict with the company’s business practices. Corporations don’t need to practice precisely what they preach, but they also can’t be working against their own goals. This can be difficult for CEOs, because they must care about both CSR and their bottom line. What they need to realize is 90 percent of global consumers would switch brands to one that is associated with a good cause. Trust in a true vision for CSR and consumers are sure to follow.
One of the greatest examples of CSR transparency is the rags-to-riches transformation of Nike. Only 20 years ago, consumers were protesting outside their stores with accusations of child labor and sweatshop use. The company promised to change and followed through 100 percent. In fact, by 2020, they plan to eliminate all hazardous chemicals from their supply chain.
No company is perfect; issues will come up. What matters to the public is sincerity and how businesses choose to deal with those problems when they arise.
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Liz Bardetti is a seasoned advertising and marketing professional with 15+ years experience, including work for Gatorade, Welch’s and most recently, CyberGrants. CyberGrants is the preferred CSR software provider to the best philanthropic corporations around the globe. Our clients represent over 50% of the Fortune 100 and nearly one-third of all corporate giving. In the last twelve months alone, CyberGrants helped 250 customers give $6.5 billion plus more than 50 million volunteer hours to over 400,000 non-profit organizations.