Business That Cares

The month of January is named after the god Janus, the god with two heads, one looking behind and one looking forward. Apparently the god Saturn, gave Janus the introspective ability to see into the past and the gift of seeing into the future. I can make no claims of having god-like abilities, but in reviewing the past year’s stories and tweets, it seems that there is trend is to find newer and better ways for business to do good. And these are the trends I see that will be significant in the year of 2011 for creating positive new directions in business philanthropy. More and more studies in social psychology and behavioral economics have been addressing the question of what motivates people to give. Businesses hoping to use cause marketing and to engage their customers in giving, and non-profits seeking to find ways to get more value from their corporate sponsorships should tap into these research studies more.

Take for example, the recent study about amusement park goers who paid more for their photos on a ride when they could choose their own price and the profits went to charity. of the Panera Cares Business Model, (we profiled their first cafe opening, St Louis Bread Company Cares) which is an example of this kind of approach, should check out the video on CBS News. For more research studies on consumer giving behavior check out: Ways Your Company Can Give More Bang For the Buck. Last year I predicted that Cause Marketing and Corporate Giving would become more differentiated. Well I was wrong. The lines have gotten even blurrier between CSR, Employee Volunteerism, EVP, Cause Marketing and Corporate Giving. Is it more that they are distinctions or that they justifiably fall under the CSR umbrella? More and people cite all of these in the context of each other and often interchangeably. Beth Kanter suggests in her blog post.Corporate Altruism: The Blurring of the Lines Between CSR and Cause Marketing that perhaps the lines do not distinguish one fore another but that it is more of a continuum.

CSR this past year has been struggling with finding a definition of itself, but more than being a continuum, I like the image of an overencompassing arc, like that of an umbrella.. Employers are seeing that when giving back to the community is a company grassroots effort, not only is there more by-in from the employees, more total giving in time and money, but also more loyalty given back to the company. Using social media to involve the public in making the decision for a company’s giving is going to get bigger and bigger. Sweets Trucks and GiveSomethingBack were finalists, and the American Express Small Business Day, where just a vote on a website or a Facebook “like”, brought about large corporate funding towards specific projects and causes. As businesses will continue to involve the public in their giving programs, so will the public be more involved in the judgment of corporate giving. Witness the outcry over the Punk Buckets for a Cure, BOBS Shoes and Target’s funding of political campaign.

While some of the public will want to be more included in corporate giving, others like Michael Hiltzik of the LA Times (who gave us a cool shout out) may want to be left alone to their own philanthropy. Whatever a company does, you can be sure the public will be watching to make sure that a company’s giving is neither insincere, nor causing harm in any way other way, nor just plain dumb. While many were dubious of Panera’s business model, more and businesses are coming up with innovative philanthropic business models. Even staid Nordstrom is planning to open a philanthropic department store in Manhattan with all profits going to charity. We have seen the B corp becoming recognized as a legal entity in several more states. Several forms of “buy one give one” business models, and more businesses like Panera with “set your own pricing schemes” have sprung up. It is possible, of course, that some of these innovative philanthropic businesses will fail, but perhaps at no higher rate no than other start ups. And if so, so be it, innovation requires taking taking on the risks of failure, but also the rewards of success and of leading the way in developing a whole new sector.