Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a broad ideological term that references a business's obligations to society. Would you believe there are 37 different versions of the definition of CSR!
The general consensus would be that CSR represents "a set of actions that appear to further some social good, extend beyond the explicit pecuniary interests of the business, and are not required by law" (Athanasopoulou et al., 2011, p. 160).
Although some aspects of CSR research have a long history, the literature merging social responsibility with sponsorship is relatively new and is primed for further investigation.
In recent years business has increasingly been viewed as a major cause of social, environmental, and economic problems with brands perceived to be prospering at the expense of the broader community.
Pressures from realities such as climate change, obesity crises and human rights violations have prompted businesses to expand from a bilateral focus on owners and shareholders to a multilateral focus on relationships with a variety of stakeholders.
This transformation has prompted companies to address societal interests by becoming involved with the social and economic needs within their local communities. These types of initiatives fall under the broad rubric of CSR.
CSR refers to a businesses obligations to society and its obligations to its various stakeholders.
Though there is little agreement regarding what these obligations are, CSR encompasses two dimensions:
(1) internal initiatives, policies and processes that ensure that a company's operations are responsible and ethical; and
(2) external initiatives to contribute to and improve the communities in which a company operates
Ironically, the more business has embraced CSR, the more it has been blamed for society's failures. As a result, there's a greatly diminished trust in business.
For many brands, CSR is a way to change perceptions and reputations, rather than creating and measuring any substantial positive impact.
It's therefore no surprise that not all social responsibility initiatives are perceived as sincere. It has been suggested that aligning CSR to a brand's core offering may cast doubt on the altruistic nature of the effort and lead to perception of the brand's motive as opportunistic or exploitive. Based on reciprocal altruism research, when social responsibility is tainted with self-serving motives, reciprocal helping is likely to diminish.
Consumer scepticism is more likely to occur when a company is perceived to use CSR as an overt, self-serving marketing tool rather than for substantially altruistic reasons.
So what can you do to be perceived as sincere?
CSR has to be accompanied with real action whether that be monetary assistance, relief or support. Next time you're sponsoring an event, especially if it's cause-related, make sure your business is investing in the cause or the charity beyond the actual event experience. Have your employees volunteer their time or make contributions that aren't part of the promoted sponsorship arrangement.
And remember, CSR should be part of a well-thought-out strategy, rather than being implemented on an ad hoc basis in response to changes in the business environment.
Good luck and remember we're here for all your sponsorship management, marketing and support services.