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Everyone from Helen Keller to King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden gets credit for the admonition, “Nobody can do everything, but everyone can do something,” which is true enough for both people and corporations. But people usually don’t have to debate all that much about exactly what charitable giving they ought to do. You know someone who’s suffering from a disease. Maybe it’s you. So you give time or money, or race, or run to raise money for someone looking for a cure. Or you feel strongly about the environment. So you give to a group trying to protect the planet. Government budget cuts cut back on culture, and culture is important to you, you give to a group that supports the arts. When it’s one-on-one, it’s easy to be expedient about your behavior. But isn’t as simple for a brand or a corporation.

So here’s a little test for you. To which charitable category do you think your brand should contribute? Not your personal brand (another column, another day), but the one you work for. If you’re not a brand or marketing professional, then feel free to act on an entirely personal basis. Below there are a dozen classifications listed alphabetically, with a couple of examples of organizations operating in that particular sector. No bias was intended, just giving examples here.

There are lots of them out there in the real world and they’re all looking for corporate contributions and brand support, so this is just to get you thinking. If we missed a category feel free to add it to your list. If there’s an organization that realistically fits one of the categories, feel free to add that too. You can’t give to all. That’s not realistic. You have to pick one. And you need to remove any personal bias. So which would be best for the brand?

Animals: SPCA/Humane Society of US

Culture: John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts/MOMA

Domestic: Red Cross/United Way

Educational: United Negro College Fund/Teach for America

Environmental: Sierra Club/Nature Conservancy

Health: American (Cancer/ Diabetes/Heart/Kidney) Society

International: CARE/Save the Children

Literacy: Reach Out and Read/Local Libraries

Medical: City of Hope/St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital

Public Affairs: American Civil Liberties Union/Points of Light

Public Broadcasting: National Public Radio/Local Stations

Youth: Big Brothers and Big Sisters of America/YMCA

While you’re thinking about it, we readily acknowledge that most companies and brands – we’re not even talking about the largest or most successful, just the average company or brand – involve themselves in charities of one sort or another. OK, true, it’s not necessarily a mandated activity in The Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, but it’s something that most brands and companies do. And with nearly 1,600,000 registered charities of one kind or another, it isn’t difficult for a brand to find one that is – if not specific to – at least tangential to their primary target audience. So good for them.

Or is it? Is what they do as good as it might be? We don’t mean are they giving enough? These are for-profit companies we’re talking about, and there’s just so much any one brand can realistically give, and, as previously conceded, an unfortunate reality is they can’t give to them all. So again, we ask, is what they do as good as it might be?

In this instance, we’re asking for them. For the brands, we mean. Ben Franklin said that there was nothing wrong about “doing well, by doing good,” so with all the deserving organizations out there, some questions should get raised: Is the brand really doing as well as they might, doing this kind of good? Mightn’t they do better if they supported some other organization also doing good, maybe even concentrating on the same thing as the other organization? Why shouldn’t brands do both – do well and do good? Return-on-investment may not be a highlighted portion of The Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility, but it is in the annual report.

If you think about these kinds of initiatives as co-branding exercises, there are predictive methods of ascertaining how well a brand can do doing good, before time, effort, money, and brand equity is spent. Brand engagement assessments allow brands to see how associating the brand with one group doing good, may help them do better than associating with another group, also doing good. Real brand engagement – a leading indicator of sales and profitability – measures how such CSR initiatives increase consumers’ perceptions of the brand as better meeting expectations they hold for the Ideal in the category. In non-research terms, do they “see” the brand in a better light? And that will vary depending upon the partner organization they opt to support.

Below are two examples of this kind of assessment. Sticking with our theme, we’d like to point out that the quality of mercy is not strained even in the branding industry, so the names of the brands and the organizations they currently support have been blinded. We looked at two brands, one with primarily a female audience (X), and one with a primarily male target audience (Y) – each supporting the same charity (A).

Then we looked at an equally analogous charitable alternative (B), just to see what would happen to brand engagement when we measured “this BRAND (absent any sponsorship or associations) supporting this organization,” using validated engagement assessments. BTW, as well as being predictive of consumer behavior, an engagement assessment of this nature obviates the problems faced by having to factor in actual marketing, advertising, sponsorship or PR efforts and the dollars put against these kinds of initiatives, as that varies from company-to-company. Results have been configured to read as percentages, with the category Ideal being 100%, and the philosophy and practice of brand engagement being to get the brand as close to 100% as possible.

So, Brand Managers, CMOs, CFOs, and other interested parties, given these results, what would you do? Brand X does do well by doing good with organization A. Not quite as good with organization B, so it would seem they’ve opted for the right choice. Brand Y, on the other hand, could have done much better had they done good with organization B. And doing well, by doing good isn’t cynical, it’s just good – and fiscally responsible – brand management.

It was Mother Teresa who said, “Give, but give till it hurts.” But nobody ever said you couldn’t make sure you don’t hurt your brand while you’re doing it.

Connect with Robert on LinkedIn.

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