Recent research has cast a light on what the public thinks about charities – from pay and transparency through to the perception of political campaigning. What can businesses learn from this when selecting a charity to support?
Why get involved?
Assuming it’s done in the right way, all parties can gain from corporate charitable involvement. Whether form the partnership takes – from the purely financial through to the practical deployment of resources and expertise, there is the obvious benefit to the charity itself. It can be a good morale booster for your team too; especially if there’s an opportunity for hands-on participation.
Last but not least is your organisation and brand. Far from regarding corporate social responsibility as a mere gimmick, research shows that customers care about the extent to which you engage with the wider community. A 2013 report, for instance, showed that 96% consumers have a more positive image of a company where it has an active corporate social responsibility policy in place. Getting involved with a charity shows you are going beyond paying lip service to the principle of CSR.
What do the public think?
Having concluded that now is the right time to get involved, the next big decision is who to get involved with. Here, it is important to think not just about the objectives of the charity but also about how it is run and how it goes about fulfilling those objectives. What is the charity in question aiming to achieve? What does my involvement with the charity say about the attitudes and priorities of my organisation? Do these attitudes chime with those of individuals within my target niche?
To gauge the public’s level of trust in the sector, Ipsos Mori and NPC recently questioned 1,000 adults on their attitudes towards charities. The findings highlight several issues that businesses may wish to consider when choosing particular organisations to work with.
A transparent approach
Transparency was the issue that provoked the strongest responses when respondents were presented with certain propositions. In particular, 57% strongly agreed and a further 25% agreed that charities should be clear about how and where money is spent. If the charity you choose to work with is subsequently hit by a funding controversy, bear in mind the reputational consequences of being associated with an organisation where there are question marks over trust. Some simple checks should help you clear this up. Does it have a clear structure? Does it take its governance and compliance responsibilities seriously and is it covered by charity insurance? Does it appear overly ‘top heavy’ with a high proportion of its funds going towards staffing and other costs? If your research leaves you with a sense of unease about how this particular charity is structured and how it distributes funds, it may be worth looking elsewhere.
Are you sending out unintended political messages?
It’s one thing to comment from time to time on changes to legislation or government policies linked to your organisation’s area of expertise. It’s another to take an overtly political stance – with the associated risk of alienating certain sections of your target market. Unless politics are a part of your organisation’s DNA, you would probably consider it an unwise move to publicly align your company with any political party, for instance. Have you taken into account the political message you could be sending out through your choice of charity to support?
This is especially the case with those charities that are actively involved in trying to change government policy. The NPC report suggests 47% of people either agree or strongly agree with the premise, “Charities should just concentrate on helping people in need, rather than campaigning to change society as a whole”. This view was especially prevalent among those members of the public on the right of the political spectrum – with 55% of Conservative and 67% of UKIP supporters agreeing with it. If you are associated with a charity with a highly visible stance when it comes to lobbying and campaigning, will you be perceived – however unintentionally on your part – as sending out specific political signals?
The attitudes of your customers shouldn’t be the only factor that determines which charities your business supports. Nevertheless, perception is important. Assuming you have constructed accurate buyer personas detailing the attitudes and key demographics of individuals within your target market, you should be able to avoid making a choice that is at odds with how those individuals are likely to perceive your brand.