The events of September 11 have heightened expectations of corporate America and its role in supporting societal needs, according to a new Cone/Roper Corporate Citizenship Study, which finds more Americans than ever making purchasing, employment and investment decisions to reward companies that demonstrate a willingness to get involved in their communities.
Almost eight in ten Americans today (79 percent) believe that companies have a responsibility to support causes—up from 65 percent in March 2001. And most Americans expect companies to adopt this social role regardless of the economic climate. Almost nine in ten Americans (88 percent) say that during an economic downturn and period of tighter consumer spending, it is important for companies to continue supporting causes—up from 71 percent in March 2001.
“The atmosphere since September 11 has accelerated and intensified a trend that our Cone/Roper research has documented since 1993,” says Carol Cone, CEO of Cone, a Boston-based public relations firm that is part of Omnicom family. “We are seeing extraordinary jumps of 20 to 50 percent in public opinion. Corporate citizenship should now become a critical component of business planning as Americans are promising increased support for companies that share their values and take action.”
In addition, 81 percent say they are likely to switch brands (when price and quality are equal) to support a cause, up from 54 percent; 80 percent say a company’s commitment to causes is important in terms of what businesses they want to see in their communities, up from 58 percent; and 77 percent say a company’s commitment to causes is important when they decide what to buy or where to shop, up from 52 percent. A similar number (76 percent) says it will consider a company’s reputation for supporting causes in making gift purchases this holiday season.
There has been a similar increase in the expectations of employees too, the survey found. In the wake of September 11, 83 percent of Americans believe it is more important than ever for the companies for which they work to support the needs of society. For a majority of Americans, this issue will influence their choice of employers.
“In the wake of the national tragedy, many Americans began to reevaluate their priorities in life, including the nature of their work,” says Cone. “By empowering employees with volunteerism opportunities, matching gifts efforts and other ways to impact social issues, companies can provide employees with ‘purposeful work’ and strengthen their organizations at the same time.”
The research also found that skepticism about corporate citizenship efforts—which had been on the increase—has now declined sharply. And Americans have reprioritized the issues they are most concerned about. In the wake of September 11, Americans most want companies to support efforts related to the national tragedy. Medical research has also skyrocketed as an issue, while the fight against crime has declined.
In this environment, it is critical for companies to communicate with their consumers and employees about their giving efforts. Almost nine in ten Americans (88 percent) say companies should tell them how they are supporting causes, up from 73 percent in March 2001.
“More than ever, Americans want to know about companies’ corporate citizenship efforts, and they will form opinions of a company’s brand and reputation based on those efforts,” says Cone. “Sophisticated companies will move beyond merely writing checks and doing short-term cause-related promotions to creating deeper social commitments. These activities should be long-term, credible and integrated into companies’ overall business strategy, and they should involve consumers, employees and communities.”