Corporate social responsibility and “going green” have been all the rage among America’s best companies and consumers for the past two years. And, there is a clear consensus that good corporate citizenship—giving back to the community and helping improve the environment—improves a company’s reputation, protects it from attacks, and builds loyalty among customers and the best employees.
But now that the economy has gone south and public, media, and government attention went from “going green” to “keeping your green,” how are companies reacting? Is green still green? Are corporations still giving back? Or has giving stopped, proving that many were just capitalizing on CSR and the green movement to gain market share?
There’s no question that corporate giving is down. Just ask Gordon Echtenkamp, president and CEO of the YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas, which is still seeing generous support from the individual donors on whom the group relies heavily. “Many of our historic corporate supporters have been able to maintain similar giving levels, for which we are grateful,” he says. “But unless we have developed a significant relationship, chances are those gifts will decline or will disappear for some time.”
Scott Begin, the new CEO of Dallas Area Habitat for Humanity, which relies heavily on corporate sponsorships, sees a similar trend. “Companies, even our longtime house sponsors, are being very deliberate and careful with their philanthropic dollars,” he says. “Many are not able to help at the same level as years past.”
That’s no surprise. But all is not lost, says United Way of Metropolitan Dallas president and CEO Gary Godsey. “While companies have certainly been forced to look at the amount of resources they have to give, there remains a keen interest on their part to invest in strong charities that can align with their corporate philanthropic interests,” Godsey says.
Obviously, the idea that “good guys are still giving, and bad guys aren’t,” doesn’t apply here. That’s because everyone seems to be giving less. According to Doug Pinkham, head of the Washington, D.C.-based Public Affairs Council, most organizations recognize that their competitors’ and the consumer’s interest in sustainability issues, for example, have not waned. “Granted, companies facing severe revenue losses are cutting costs everywhere,” Pinkham says. “But firms realize that they can’t backtrack on their stated goals to help local communities. Too many people—including their own employees—are counting on them.”
Those that are backtracking aren’t likely fooling anyone. “The public and the media can spot ‘greenwashing’ a mile away,” says Pinkham. “They know if a company is only pretending to care about the environment.”
The good news is that most companies are still giving back. That means doubts are groundless about corporate citizenship serving merely as the latest business trend, as doing well by doing good is or has become part of the corporate DNA for many companies—the best ones, anyway. They are maintaining their employee volunteer and philanthropic programs, even if they’re not funded at the same levels. The good guys recognize their responsibility to the community and the role of the private sector in filling the gaps during tough economic times. And, we all know who the good guys are; the same ones who will bounce back quickest when times are good again.
Webb is director of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility for Mary Kay Inc. Previously, he was chief of staff for Dallas Mayor Laura Miller and an investigative reporter for CBS 11.