Americans are deeply divided over whether companies should promote their philanthropic activities in response to the recent national tragedy, according to a new survey conducted by Omnicom’s cause-related marketing specialist Cone.
Despite strong anecdotal evidence from corporate communications professionals that employees and the media are demanding more information about corporate activities in response to the terror attacks on the U.S., the Cone survey found that while 51 percent of American support advertising these activities, almost half of all Americans say such advertising is not appropriate, or express uncertainty about its appropriateness.
Other poll findings suggest that companies should be careful about the way they raise funds and provide other support for the victims of the recent national tragedy. While the majority of Americans say they want companies to provide some level of support, certain activities are more acceptable than others.
For example, most Americans (74 percent) feel it is appropriate for companies to “hold fund-raising events to support victims” and a majority (62 percent) believes it is appropriate to “tie a percentage of the proceeds of a product to supporting victims.” But there is more uncertainty, around corporate efforts to “ask employees to donate to a fund that supports victims” or “ask consumers to donate at point-of-purchase.” In each case, only half of all Americans support these actions. And only a quarter of Americans (24 percent) wants companies to “temporarily stop their ongoing philanthropic activities and focus solely on the national tragedy.”
In addition to continuing “philanthropy as usual,” most Americans (75 percent) feel it is appropriate for companies to “get back to business as usual.”
“Our poll suggests that companies should practice ‘thoughtful patriotism,’” says Carol Cone, CEO of Cone. “Many American consumers and employees may not want companies to ‘put them on the spot’ by directly soliciting contributions in a public setting or in a way that could feel judgmental. On the other hand, charitable events or purchase choices made in a group setting have more support, perhaps because consumers have more choice, more control and feel less pressure.”
Based on the poll’s findings, Cone offers some suggestions for companies that are deciding how to help in an appropriate way in the wake of our shared national tragedy:

       Make sure that collection boxes in retail settings are positioned as a completely voluntary decision and put no pressure on customers to contribute.

       Do not solicit financial contributions to help victims in a manner that leads customers or employees to feel as if you are maintaining lists of who gives and who does not.

       Create or participate in events or percentage-of-sales contribution programs that empower consumers and employees. This allows them to make a voluntary decision, while helping them to make an individual contribution to provide relief to the victims of our national tragedy.
With regard to advertising and other communications surrounding the tragedy, Cone suggests that companies:

       Focus information on “news you can use,” or ways that employees and customers can get involved through fundraising programs or volunteerism.

       Leverage corporate Web sites to share information on philanthropic activities.

       Be careful about the tone and stridency of communications or advertisements regarding your company’s efforts to support the relief efforts. Providing information is one thing – seeking congratulations or a reward is another.