Focusing on Social Impact Doesn’t Guarantee CSR Success

It was with great interest that I read Anne Miltenburg’s recent article, “Social Good Is Always Good Branding – or Is It?” My first reaction was to reflect on the old cliché: All publicity is good publicity. But I know – from experience – that that is not necessarily true.

In any case, I agreed – mostly – with Miltenburg. I thought her fourth point, “A brand based on goodwill can forget to compete on quality,” was buried in the article. While she admits that it sounds obvious, let us not forget that making a profit is a company’s #1 goal – and it should be. Only when a company generates revenue can it employ people from within the community, leverage the talents of their team to “do good,” and invest in nonprofits that are achieving social change.

I slightly disagree with Miltenburg’s first point, “When a business’s impact model comes under fire, the entire business can suffer” – and even the example she gives is flimsy. Sure, Tom’s Shoes might have come under fire for linking it to social harm. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to believe that there was any malintent. Cleary, Tom’s meant well. And once they realized the unanticipated negative impact they were having in the community, they revised their business model in ways that appear to be responsive to some of these criticisms. It’s unclear if Tom’s Shoes suffered any true financial hardship. If anything, they have inspired scores of companies to figure out how to give back.

The impact that this business is working toward may be harder to achieve then it thinks. Again, this is another obvious statement. If creating social change were easy, we would have eradicated hunger and homelessness and unemployment decades ago. But that shouldn’t stop a company from announcing a bold goal – within a finite period of time. There’s nothing sexy about announcing that your company is going to end homelessness – by the year 2100.

Read the article and share your thoughts. It goes without saying: focusing on social impact isn’t a guarantee that your company’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts will be successful. With which of Miltenburg’s points do you agree or disagree?

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