Paul Holmes 05 Dec 2010 // 5:13PM GMT
A new Weber Shandwick survey finds that company executives cite the desire to help communities address critical issues as more important than building customer or employee loyalty or brand differentiation when it comes to investing in corporate social responsibility. I’m sure the executives who responded that way felt noble and progressive—so why do the findings leave me feeling slightly depressed? In part, it’s because I think the survey respondents are lying. And in part, it’s because I hope they are. I don’t believe most corporate CSR activity is motivated by pure altruism, and I don’t believe it should be. For one thing, I think CSR is only sustainable if executives believe it has business value. For another thing—and this is a slightly more subtle point—I think CSR will be credible to consumers only if they believe it is motivated by self-interest. In effect, I believe that companies should continually make the case the CSR is a public relations ploy (not in the sense that it is merely a cosmetic exercise, but in the more meaningful sense that CSR enhances the vitally important relationships between a company and its key stakeholders, including consumers, communities and employees). I think the most compelling argument in support of CSR (one that should be equally compelling to both executives and external stakeholders) is the following: at a time when employees, consumers and others have more information and more choices than ever before, it is important for companies to build relationships and engagement based on strong, shared values. One of the most effective ways of doing that is to demonstrate that the company can make a positive contribution by addressing issues of mutual concern. Therefore, the company’s commitment to such activities is genuine because it makes good business sense.