An owner of a pro sports team recently remarked to me that being seen “doing good” in the world is now a requirement. Gone are the days of quietly sponsoring the local Little League team. Good citizenship has become a big business with a large associated budget. Starbucks recently announced a plan to distribute a million coffee trees, and Ikea has allocated over $1.1 billion to combat climate change.
As the former chairperson of a large charity, I am grateful for this shift. The opportunity to connect societal good with the vast resources of business is an exciting development, and I have decided personally to focus my efforts at this intersection. But these good citizen announcements are coming so fast that a CMO at a large financial institution mused that they weren’t sure people would even remember whether it was them or a competitor who was sponsoring adjacent causes. So it seems timely to step back and review how brands might allocate these significant investments.
Two of my worries surrounding the current headlines are sustainability and scalability. Having experienced a few business cycles, I fear that the first thing to go will be these external initiatives when margins start getting squeezed. It is a truly committed management that sustains large-scale external programs when they are cutting people or bleeding red ink. Also, from my experiences in charity, the announcements and investments themselves are usually the easiest things to execute. Programs seldom scale by themselves and require significant ongoing attention from the sponsor to ensure success. Great intentions can become PR liabilities when programs are not executed well or worse yet, wound down.
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