When evaluating a company’s corporate citizenship, Americans are most impressed by the choice of cause the company supports and by the direct involvement of company employees, and least influenced by celebrity spokespeople, according to a survey released today by Hill & Knowlton and its  research partner Yankelovich Partners. 
When asked what influences them most in deciding whether or not a company is a good “corporate citizen,” 42 percent of 1,000 Americans chose “the cause itself” and 31 percent chose company employees or executives who volunteer their time for the cause. Only 6 percent felt that a celebrity’s involvement was most influential, and almost two-thirds of the respondents felt that having a celebrity associated with the cause was the least important factor in such a decision.
Almost two thirds of Americans point to either the number of people helped or reached (36 percent) or the extent to which a program or event resolved an issue or problem (26 percent) as the best way to measure the success of a philanthropic program. Only a few Americans felt that an increase in a company’s stock (3%) or sales (3%) was an important measure of success.
Media, including newspapers, television and radio, was the source of information that most Americans (33 percent) use to form their opinions about a company. Personal experience with the company (17 percent) and word of mouth (15 percent) were also important. In contrast, only 4 percent felt that corporate advertising was the most important factor in making a decision about a company’s corporate citizenship.
“Credibility is crucial to a corporate philanthropic program’s success,” said Judy Hamby, the director of Hill and Knowlton’s strategic philanthropy group, which advises companies in this area.  “Consumers have to believe in the cause to believe in the company that supports it. It’s not surprising that the public understands that media is the most effective vehicle to get that message across.”    
Hamby recommends that companies engaged in philanthropic activities have an active media relations program aimed at getting credit for their good works.
American philanthropic priorities have changed little since last year’s survey, the first undertaken on the subject by the two firms.  The categories of charitable activity most likely to make Americans have a favorable impression about a corporation remain education, named by 30 percent of respondents, and health and welfare, named by 21 percent, the same as last year. Ten percent of Americans mention the environment, and only 3 percent would be most favorably impressed by corporate involvement in “arts and culture.”
The survey also found that, assuming a company has a fixed amount of money to donate, more than half of Americans (59 percent) prefer that companies use their philanthropic dollars to support a variety of causes. “It seems that people want corporate America to be as widely involved in the community as possible,” said Harlan Teller, executive managing director of Hill and Knowlton’s U.S. corporate communications practice. 
“What Americans might not realize is that the more scattered a company’s involvement, the less likely it will be to have as much impact in any area.”  In addition, Teller notes, “a scattershot philanthropic effort will make it very difficult for companies to break through the clutter and get credit for what they do.”