The end of corporate philanthropy?

Nestle SA Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe said he opposes corporate philanthropy.

Nestle SA Chairman Peter Brabeck-Letmathe told Bloomberg that he opposes corporate philanthropy because shareholder money can be misused. He also said that "government, business, and civic groups should team up to tackle society's problems."

This may touch a nerve for many, but does Brabeck have a point?  

Consider this, the pharmaceutical industry gives the more money to NGOs across the globe than any other industry, yet it is perceived to be one of the least respected corporate citizens in many polls.  

Nestle's strategy in corporate and social responsibility focuses on areas that are key to its own business strategy and that boost shareholder value as well as help society, including: helping boost productivity among the more than 500,000 farmers it works with, reducing water use, and developing more nutritious products.

Societal value and business value are no longer mutually exclusive. What used to be social investments aligned with timely social issues not necessarily tied to the business have been transformed to social investments that are aligned with the business.

It is a strategic shift occurring across the globe and one that companies are trying to navigate, especially in the communications department.

For years, traditional philanthropy provided numerous communications opportunities to build corporate reputation, create an emotional connection between consumers and the company, and to put a halo over the company in the communities it served.

Communications professionals, along with other departments within a company, will need to adjust because this strategic shift is here to stay. A social investment tied to the business may have once been perceived as self-serving to internal and external audiences. It isn't anymore. Research shows today's stakeholders understand that companies need to be profitable but also believe they can be purposeful and profitable at the same time. 

This is powerful story when it happens and it should be told.

Scott Beaudoin is the North America director of CSR and cause marketing and SVP of consumer marketing at MS&L Worldwide.

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