"The first time you do this work, it will change your life," says Jeff Terry, senior manager- corporate commitment at Whirlpool Corp., where he runs a program of support for Habitat for Humanity.
As a Habitat Cornerstone Partner, Whirlpool has earned recognition not only for appliance donations but also for the volunteer hours from its employees who work on Habitat projects.
Product donation was just "embarking on the tip of the iceberg," when it began in the mid-1990s. "We saw there was an opportunity to engage and inspire our people," he says.
"Where a company spends its charity dollars reveals a lot about its character," says Ed Faruolo, VP-brand strategy and integration for Cigna, where he coordinates corporate social responsibility programs. "Any product or service can be duplicated. But competitors cannot duplicate what your character is all about."
Cigna supports charitable programs that fit with the company's health care mission. "Employees like to see our associations with March of Dimes, WomenHeart and the Healthy Kids Challenge for prevention of childhood obesity," he says. "At end of the day, people want to go home and feel they contribute to something more than just the bottom line."
To be most effective, "A cause marketing program should work from inside out, be genuine and emanate from the company's DNA," says Scott Farrell, exec VP-practice leader of the change corporate citizenship practice at Golin/Harris, New York. "From outside looking in, it should resonate with the consumer and be seen as making a difference. From your people, brand, product, services-it's part of the way you do business."
Hannah Jones, VP-corporate responsibility for Nike, puts it more succinctly, writing recently in an online newsletter, "Our corporate responsibility team no longer is simply working with the business. More than ever, we're part of the business."
WOVEN INTO FABRIC
These observations are on-trend. "Corporations are working toward weaving that sense of corporate citizenship into the fabric of how they do business," says David Hessekiel, president of the Cause Marketing Forum.
"It is best practice to focus on an issue related to your core competency and embed it in your brand DNA employee behavior," says Alana Schmitt Burns, VP-cause branding and corporate responsibility at Cone Communications, Boston. "Companies often come to us to improve consumer loyalty and brand preference, to attract talent, to get permission to operate."
These goals may be attained through a range of activities. In their book "Corporate Social Responsibility: Doing the Most Good for Your Company & Cause," authors Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee identify categories of socially responsible business practices, ranging from simple cash donations for worthy charities, to more complex activities such as programs that link consumer action or purchasing behavior to a company donation.
Social-responsibility programs may include green initiatives, such as UPS' effort to deploy thousands of alternative fuel and low-emission vehicles in its delivery fleet, and also humanistic efforts such as Nike's work to ensure safer workplace environments in overseas factories or Starbucks' support of fair-trade pricing for independent coffee growers.
Corporate social marketing is distinguished by its goal to positively influence citizen behavior. When Home Depot supported the "Water-Use It Wisely" campaign in 2005, its goal was to encourage water conservation in dry Arizona. Implementation was largely in-store, with displays and distributed information, including tips and tie-backs to in-store events.
Dow Rigler, a Home Depot community affairs representative, later wrote on wateruseitwisely.com, "We never imagined all the benefits that would come from that partnership."
Cause-related marketing programs are on the rise. Mr. Hessekiel cites a recent report from IEG, a sponsorship-marketing specialist recently acquired by WPP Group. It forecasts cause sponsorships will reach $1.34 billion, up 20% in 2006. That's about about 10% of the total corporate spending on all sponsorships. That cause marketing figure represents a 14.5% increase over the estimated $1.17 billion spent on charity-marketing deals in 2005 and is more than 11 times greater than the $120 million spent in 1990.
"That's the single biggest one-year jump on dollar basis since they began tracking it in 1990," he says.
Ms. Schmitt Burns regularly references a Conference Board report that indicates the median corporate giving level is 1.67% of U.S. pretax earnings.
Corporate social responsibility has become a fast-growing segment of charitable activities for companies. There is "a social responsibility movement," says Mr. Hessekiel. "It's a discipline of saying a corporation has responsibility to the community. Corporations are working toward integrating that sense ... One of the key tools for communicating this is cause marketing."
There is a definite trend, says Mark Rozeen, senior VP-director of research at Golin/Harris. "Consumers are raising the table stakes for companies ... It's gone from a 'nice to do' to a 'have to do.' "
Environmental issues, he says, have become "baked into the American way of life. It is such an expectation to honor and address the environment. The real risk for a company is not doing it."
But keeping with brand appropriateness is crucial to any successful cause marketing effort. "When the idea rings true to your fundamental actions as a business, you're on the right track," says Larry Jones, president of TV Land and Nick at Nite.
Over the past four years, his company has aired funded research, PSAs and created a call-to-action plan encouraging people to register to eat together on "National Family Dinner Day," an event created by CASA, the National Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, an organization headed by Joseph A. Califano Jr.
Mr. Jones says that the rationale is to promote family dining as a symbolic anchor against the tide of tobacco, alcohol and drug abuse among the nation's youth. The networks "go dark" for an hour on Family Day to show solidarity with the effort.
"What they did is put Family Day on the map," says Mr. Califano. "1.2 million people pledged to have dinner with their families in 2005." A repeat of the promotion is set for Sept. 25.
Mr. Faruolo says Cigna has supported the March of Dimes Walk America event for the past two years. "It's a character build, considered a rite of passage in our organization, an aspect of career development. It has become one of the ways we groom high-potential people to be more well-rounded."
Corporate social responsibility may be less about marketing and more about culture. This may cut across the grain of conventional marketing thinking. It's "building mutually beneficial commercial relationships between companies and causes," says Mr. Hessekiel.
But it needs to come from an expression of the brand itself, says Mr. Farrell. "When it's a bolt-on, it's almost the kiss of death."