CSR programs in good, bad times reap companies long-term benefits

This week's feature examines Yum Brands and its World Hunger Relief program, which benefits the World Food Programme.

This week's feature examines Yum Brands and its World Hunger Relief program, which benefits the World Food Programme. That a corporation such as Yum Brands, parent company of Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, KFC, and others, has such a dedicated CSR program is no surprise. These days, CSR has become a cost of entry for corporations. In fact, Yum's work with WFP is just one of the many CSR efforts that it undertakes throughout the year, benefitting everything from Boys & Girls Clubs of America to public education.

It's commendable that despite the current economic climate, Yum has no plans to slow down its CSR initiatives, especially its work with WFP. In fact, the company is dialing up its efforts. Last fall it made a five-year commitment to the Clinton Global Initiative to raise $80 million for WFP and other hunger relief agencies and to provide more than 20 million volunteer hours.

Continued commitment is important on many levels. Aside from obvious benefits for the organizations, there are several business reasons for companies to continue their CSR efforts during a recession.

Consumers have come to expect companies to do good deeds and to give back to society, and research has shown that they are more likely to support companies that do so. During difficult financial times, when consumers may not be able to financially support the cause of their choice in the manner in which they are accustomed, allowing them to do so by buying specific products or making small donations at the point of purchase provides a solid alternative. It also confirms the company's level of commitment to the cause, which is especially important at a time when skepticism of big business is at an all-time high. And that commitment can also help to build brand loyalty.

For public companies, shareholders are an important audience and, increasingly, individual investors and organized shareholder groups are encouraging corporations to keep or increase their CSR activities. Communicating this commitment to shareholders, via earnings release calls or by special CSR reports, is a necessity.

Another important reason for continuity of CSR efforts is the internal benefit. Much has been made of the Millennial generation's desire to work for companies that give back. That expectation likely won't diminish because of economic situations. In fact, during difficult times for companies, continuing CSR activities, and allowing employees to participate actively, can provide a much-needed morale boost. More than ever, employees need to feel positive about where they work.

Recently, CSR efforts have sprung up from companies in a variety of industries. It's easy to be a good corporate citizen when times are flush. It's those companies that continue their commitment, even during bad times, that will ultimately reap all of the possible benefits.

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