Kate Nicholas: Corporations don't speak NGOs' language

Warren Buffett's $37bn gesture of largess to Bill Gates' charity may well go down in history as one of the largest philanthropic acts of its kind. But it isn't difficult to imagine how the deal was sewn up. Gates and Buffett operate in the same universe, they are both after their slice of immortality, and they speak the same language.

In fact, corporate giving on the whole is currently in decline, which is somewhat ironic given the fact that so many companies are looking to convince the public of their corporate social responsibility. Companies are turning their backs on simple philanthropic gestures and looking at more sophisticated and active ways to cash in on the halo effect that surrounds leading charities.

Corporate sponsors want more for their money – they want their customers to see how involved they are in the cause. But this isn’t quite as simple to pull off as old-fashioned philanthropy. Persuading NGOs to let you piggyback your commercial success on their cause requires rather more careful finessing.

I was thinking about all this while listening to the keynote speaker at the PRWeek Forum this week. Craig Sams is founder of the organic chocolate range Green & Black’s, bought out in May 2005 by Cadbury Schweppes, whose other subsidiary could do with a bit of Sams’ CSR halo effect at this moment.

Because despite being unashamedly concerned with luxury indulgence, Green & Black’s is a product generated entirely from a socially responsible proposition. Sams’ first chocolate brand, Maya Gold – launched on the Oxfam stand at the BBC Good Food Show in 1994 – was sold as much on the back of the issue of fair trade as it was on taste. While NGOs were telling horror stories about the plight of women on large cocoa plantations, Green and Black’s provided a perfect call to action: simply buy packs of great-tasting, ‘guilt-free’ chocolate and improve the lives of growers in Belize as well as the environment.

Sams talks the same language as NGOs, referring to supporters rather than customers, and even borrows engagement techniques more commonly used in raising funds. It’s not a wonder that his product was sold by the likes of Greenpeace.

Sams isn’t an activist, he’s an entrepreneur, but not many businessmen started life peddling green tea to the masses. Obviously a self-confessed hippy can learn the language of the boardroom, but can the boardroom ever learn to speak the language of the NGO?

kate.nicholas@haynet.com

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

John Lewis to tell brand story with "tasteful" 150th anniversary celebrations

Department store John Lewis is to use its 150th anniversary this year to talk about its history, which "not enough people know about", according to director of communications Peter Cross.

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

Labour hires Obama election strategist David Axelrod to fight General Election

The man who helped Barack Obama win the 2008 and 2012 US presidential elections is to work for Labour along with members of his team.

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Sky adds Fever PR to its roster after splitting with Cake

Pay-TV giant Sky has added Fever PR to its agency line-up for a wide-ranging brief covering products and services.

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

Max Clifford trial jury to continue deliberations after Easter break

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford has been sent home for Easter and will reconvene on Tuesday for further deliberations about its verdicts on 11 charges of indecent assault.

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

Home Office brings in Munro & Forster to campaign against FGM

The Home Office has tasked Munro & Forster (M&F) with supporting its campaign to eradicate female genital mutilation (FGM) as part of a wider retained brief.