The Six Types of Corporate Social Initiatives

Companies across Canada and around the world from “Mom & Pop” shops to multinationals are making serious efforts blend profit and purpose.  A huge amount of jargon has emerged around the concept of integrating values and value creation.

At Companies & Causes Canada, we rely heavily on a set of definitions for “corporate social initiatives” described on the 2012 book “Good Works!” written by our founder David Hessekiel, Phillip Kotler, the eminent professor of marketing, and social marketing expert Nancy Lee.  

We think you’ll find these six descriptions extremely useful in conceptualizing your own efforts to do well by doing good (Note many substantial programs are hybrids that integrate several of these approaches).  The six types of corporate social initiatives are:

Cause Promotion leverages corporate funds, in-kind contributions, or other resources to increase awareness and concern about a social cause or to support fundraising, participation, or volunteer recruitment for a cause. Well-conceived and executed cause promotions can improve attitudes toward a company; generate consumer traffic, sales and increased loyalty; and motivate employees and trade partners.

Example: In May 2014, Canadian Tire asked shoppers to donate $2 and receive a Jumpstart Red Ball paper icon symbolizing their support of  efforts to give poor families the assistance they need to enable their children to participate in after-school sports and physical activities.  This and other grassroots efforts raised $1.9 million that month.

Cause-Related Marketing links monetary or in-kind donations to product sales or other consumer action. What most distinguishes cause-related marketing is the way it links a corporation’s level of giving to consumer action. Because of that linkage, cause-related marketing initiatives often require more detailed agreements and coordination with nonprofit partners involving important activities such as establishing specific promotional offers, developing co-branded advertisements, abiding by state regulations and industry guidelines, and tracking consumer purchases and activities.

Example: Each year on Camp Day, Tim Hortons donates all proceeds from coffee sales to send children in need on summer camp experiences. In 2014, the effort raised $11.8 million — enough to send 17,000 kids to camp.

Corporate Social Marketing uses business resources to develop and/or implement a behavior change campaign intended to improve public healthy, safety, the environment, or community well-being. Behavior change is always the focus and the intended outcome.

Example: BC Hydro has influenced many of its consumers to reduce their energy consumption through its Power Smart loyalty program.

Corporate Philanthropy involves a corporation making a direct contribution to a charity or cause, most often in the form of cash grants, donations, and/or in-kind services.

Example: Indigo Books & Music Inc. founded the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation in 2004 to address the underfunding of public schools, their libraries and the resulting literacy crisis. Through its Literacy Fund grant, the Indigo Love of Reading Foundation commits $1.5 million each year to 20 high-needs elementary schools so they can rebuild their libraries with new books and education resources.

Employee Engagement activities support and encourage employees to engage with nonprofit organizations and causes. These efforts may include employees volunteering their expertise, talents, ideas and/or physical labor. Corporate support may involved providing paid time off from work, matching services to help employees find opportunities of interest, recognition for service, and organizing teams to support specific causes the corporation has targeted. Done right, these efforts fully integrate into existing corporate social initiatives and connect the employee activities to business goals.

Example: The Home Depot associates are encouraged and empowered to take a leadership role in the community through a program called Team Depot. From updating a youth shelter with a fresh coat of paint to improving storage solutions at a local transitional home to enhancing outdoor spaces, associates work with local charities to improve the homes and lives of thousands of deserving Canadians in need. Annually, The Home Depot associates contribute more than 60,000 volunteer hours to community projects across Canada.

Socially Responsible Business Practices are discretionary business practices that a corporation adopts and conducts to support social causes, to improve community well-being, and/or to protect the environment. Key distinctions include a focus on activities that are discretionary, not those mandated by laws or regulatory agencies.

Example: In May 2011, Vancity became the largest organization in Canada to become a Living Wage Employer (in Vancouver that is $20.10 per hour vs. the minimum wage of $10.25)