On Doing Corporate Philanthropy Well, Or not

Some thoughts on corporate marketing and philanthropy.  I am increasingly uncomfortable with us and our corporate/non-profit partnerships that seem to be all about marketing and appear to have little substance behind them. While I blame the companies in part, I think we may be a part of the problem as well.

I was reminded of my discomfort last weekend at the Vikings game, and with the NFL's promotion of breast cancer awareness month that will start tonight. Several times last weekend, the Vikings highlighted their work to stop childhood disease, and support soldiers. The work is good. I have no problem with that. But as they gave it prominent play, and the whole stadium stood and applauded, I felt very uncomfortable. Something seemed off, as if what we were all doing, the Vikings and us the fans, was ultimately all about us.  Is this something we really care about, or is it about simply appearing to care?  Am I wrong? Is this a necessary part of fundraising and making people aware of worthwhile causes, or is there a hidden narcissism going on that starts with us?

To be clear, I get that in some respects it is primarily about marketing.  And for a for-profit entity that may be ok.  For me it is more a question of authenticity.  Is what you are promoting core to who you are or not?  Which matters, because I think many consumers can sniff out a lack of authenticity.  If the philanthropy is infact sincere, and I certainly hope it is, then the communicator needs to take care that that message is effectively communicated.  At the Viking game a few weeks ago, the partnerships didn't seem authentic.  I didn't get the impression that the Vikings core concern was childhood disease.  It seemed like they just wanted me to feel good about what they were doing in the community.  And it seemed like a lot of us were perfectly fine with that.  We stood and applauded, costing us nothing.

This is in contrast to, for example, an outdoor company that sells sporting goods, and also takes practical steps to nurture the environment.  If a CEO or owner clearly has a passion for the outdoors that drives both his business and his philanthropy, that I can get on board with.  If a metal fabrication shop puts their own time and effort into making things to help the handicap, say a kick-ass wheelchair for a wounded vet.  That is exciting.  They are proving their passion with their time, and asking me to get on board as well.  Ok. I like it.

But if it is just about perception.  Save it.