There’s been a growing sense of unease swirling in the media recently about brands aligning themselves with charities. Some feel that brands are getting carried away, or are being inauthentic or exploitative. Or as an op-ed published recently on the Mumbrella website put it, they are “hitching to a purpose bandwagon”.
While we should be critical of brands capitalising on purpose solely for the sake of profits, there is much more reason to celebrate the groundswell of increased social responsibility and philanthropy we’re seeing in the corporate world.
Bad-mouthing brands that align themselves with a cause can create an atmosphere of corporate mistrust, and those players with genuine charitable intent can become nervous about committing for fear of a backlash. Corporate fundraising contributes 20 to 30 per cent of the revenue of not-for-profits (NFPs), so negative press can do real damage to their bottom lines.
Charities are used to getting criticised about money. People often attack the “cost-in-dollar” that they spend on fundraising, or take issue with NFPs for investing in marketing or digital campaigns. The reality is charities need to raise awareness and connect with an audience – they can’t rely on volunteers to run sophisticated marketing and digital campaigns; it’s essential to pay skilled people who can meet objectives. I worked on fundraising campaigns for the Salvation Army for more than 10 years and saw firsthand how important this expenditure is for NFPs.
The issue is really rooted in what consumers perceive as a lack of transparency. Businesses connecting with a charity need to be reporting about their connection and contribution – through raising awareness, for example. Without transparency, there’ll no doubt be a whiff of inauthenticity.
It’s not just about money
For brands, truly beneficial purpose alignment needs to be a percentage of sales or a donation through transaction to the charity of their choice. Solbari, an e-commerce company that sells sun-protection gear, donates 15 per cent of sales to cancer charities. The company doesn’t boast about it; they’re committed to skin protection and also supporting people who have been affected by skin cancer. By delivering back to the industry, they are an example of a true alignment between brand and purpose.
There are also ways to provide financial benefit that don’t involve monetary donations. Depending on the nature of the charity, raising much-needed resources can have the same financial impact as monetary donations.
The charity Share the Dignity collects sanitary products for homeless women and women who are fleeing domestic violence. Alongside corporate donations, they have partnered with a series of beauty chains that collect the goods from consumers in-store, meaning Share the Dignity doesn’t need to purchase these expensive resources themselves.
Meanwhile, social enterprise Thankyou has committed to using 100 per cent of its profit to end global poverty. Sales of Thankyou-branded bottled water, hand wash and babycare products provide millions of dollars in funding for safe water, toilets and child and maternal health programs for hundreds and thousands of people in need.
If a brand is passionate about a specific cause, there can also be policy changes within the business that show they are walking the purpose walk. Adore Beauty was prompted to do just that in response to another recent op-ed that took a potshot at the White Ribbon campaign, which raises funds for victims of domestic violence.
To show her support for the cause, Adore Beauty’s CEO, Kate Morris, updated the company’s domestic violence leave policy to provide paid domestic violence leave to her own workers, should they ever need it.
So how should a brand avoid the pitfalls of inauthenticity when seeking to align with purpose? It’s important to be sincere – a brand should promote the charity partnership in a mature, respectful way that always connects back to direct value to the charity. It’s not about just inserting the brand logo and riding on the goodwill coattails; any promotion of the partnership needs to include a direct call to action that leads to tangible benefits for the charity.
And let’s not cut down those brands that have philanthropic purpose and the business strategy to back it up – we need more, not fewer, of them in the world.
Laura Qureshi is the client success director at Overdose Digital, an end-to-end digital e-commerce agency. Laura is a strategic, philanthropically minded marketing expert who has worked with The Salvation Army, World Vision, Leukaemia Foundation, Kids Under Cover, Pancare Foundation and Reclink Australia.