Research by two University of Missouri-Columbia researchers, Professor Glen Cameron and doctoral student Jiyang Bae, suggests that when companies with good reputations give money to charitable causes, attitudes toward those companies are positive. But when companies with bad reputations make donations, negative attitudes may be reinforced.

“People trigger a sophisticated and active attribution process when they become suspicious of something, causing them to judge the corporation’s real motivation,” Cameron says. “Public suspicion cued by prior corporate reputation influences people’s attitudes toward corporate giving and makes them suspicious of the reason for corporate giving.”

Bae warns that corporate giving doesn’t produce unconditional positive impacts on the corporate side. “Corporate public relations managers who plan to give money to ‘save face’ after severe reputation damage should reconsider their giving because the public is diligent about interpreting the real motivation for why a company gives money to social causes,” says Bae.