Doing good done well.

Good deeds can be a strong ally in marketing communcations. That is, if they're done properly.

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, initiatives are becoming more formalized—and more expected. To be effective in today’s transparent world, though, they have to accurately reflect what the company believes about itself. If they don’t, research shows they can do more harm than good.

John D. Rockefeller, one of the nation’s first oil barons, discovered the value of corporate giving and used it not only to change his reputation, but to create a model of philanthropy that is still practiced. Troubled by his image as a ruthless, heartless businessman, he was advised by a public relations practitioner to begin handing out dimes to children he met. Considering his vast fortune, he could have given dimes to everyone in the Western Hemisphere. But this one gesture helped turn public perception nearly 180 degrees. In spite of monopolies, mine disasters, and other consequences of unbridled capitalism, Rockefeller became recognized as the kindly man who gave dimes to children. He (and particularly his son, John, Jr.) backed up this small gesture with what became arguably the most influential charitable foundation ever created. The Rockefeller Foundation has made contributions worth more than $14 billion to everything from establishing wide scale effective farming practices in the Americas to funding Spike Lee’s documentary about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, When the Levees Broke.

As consumers become more socially conscious, corporate giving and social contributions are moving more and more to the forefront. Companies who don’t participate, or who have too obvious agendas for contributions are penalized. And in the instant communications world of the internet, penalties can be swift and severe. In 2001, Starbucks was the target of a 100-city boycott over its policies regarding fair trade coffee purchases. This was the same year that Starbucks began publishing a CSR Annual Report, detailing how it had signed agreements to purchase millions of pounds of fair trade coffee, and how its efforts in this area were expanding. Pressure on the company has backed off.

But that doesn’t mean a good CSR policy and approach is going to make everyone happy. A quick online search revealed a number of other groups boycotting Starbucks, one for the way women were treated in its stores (11 members), and one for the CEO’s comments on Palestinians (about 2000 signatures on its petition). Starbucks will likely never quell all of these, but its formal, well presented CSR report certainly does suggest that the company is listening and that it is taking action that is beneficial for itself and its customers.

But in terms of actual measurement, what can a good CSR program provide an organization? Studies from the Center for Responsible Business indicate that done properly, a corporate program of contributions and social action can provide bottom line benefits.

The key seems to be that the efforts have to fit the corporation. Read more here.