Just in time for the giving season, a study from Reputation Institute has corporate social responsibility folks feeling more like Scrooge than Santa. The 2012 CSR RepTrak 100 Study found that CSR programs are not creating the public goodwill companies expect.
Of 47,000 people surveyed, 60 percent said they weren’t sure if companies really are good corporate citizens. Four percent said corporations weren’t to be trusted, well, ever. And not one company ranked tops in CSR perception in 15 global markets involved in the survey.
Not all was gloom and doom. Microsoft garnered the most positive vibes of the 100 companies in the study. Dan Bross, Microsoft’s senior director of citizenship and public affairs, told Forbes, “Our CSR efforts have a direct and positive impact on people in our own backyard and around the world, and in turn, their ongoing engagement with us contributes to Microsoft’s business success.”
And yet that’s not the conclusion Reputation Institute drew from the survey’s results.
“Companies are mismanaging their CSR investments,” said Kasper Nielsen, executive partner of the Institute. “They are not applying the same rigor to these investments as they do to their other core business priorities. They are not linking CSR to their business strategy, but instead treating it as a separate initiative and investment.”
He’s right on that point. As someone who has worked in the corporate contributions realm, I understand the value of connecting social responsibility to a company’s strategic focus. It allows the company to have a meaningful impact through targeted giving and engagement.
But I did find Mr. Nielsen’s next comment a bit disturbing: “You do CSR as part of your reputation management strategy to drive business growth, customer loyalty, and employee alignment.”
He’s not wrong, just incomplete. The problem with making reputation and business success the only drivers for corporate social responsibility is that people see right through it. This insincerity – I’ll call it “cynical CSR” – fools no one. The survey proves that.
I have a hunch this is where the “mismanagement” is happening. Companies that bestow their largesse for the sake of headlines, grip-and-grins and most-admired lists will continue to struggle with a wary, distrustful public. Those who are good stewards of their resources and activities, focusing on where they can do the most good most effectively, with openness and sincerity, will earn the reputations they desire.