Corporate Citizenship—More Than Just Cause Marketing

Last week, I was watching “Rock Center with Brian Williams” (with about five other people, according to the Nielsen ratings…). Anyway, Chelsea Clinton did an interesting story on a great example of cause marketing and corporate citizenship done the right way that really impressed me.

Darden Restaurants – you probably know the company better as Olive Garden, Red Lobster, and Longhorn Steakhouse – throws away food at the end of every night. A lot of food. TONS of food. And no – we’re not talking about the bits of broccoli left on diners’ plates. We’re talking about the entrée that someone changed before it was served or meat that wasn’t used that night and won’t be used before the next shipment arrives.

Instead of letting all that food go to waste, the Darden leadership team followed the example of a few of its restaurants: it packaged the unused food and donated it to local food banks. What started as a small local cause marketing program was recognized and institutionalized by the parent company. Now known as the Darden Harvest Program, it is making a significant difference with families in need nationwide. According to Darden’s most recent Community Service Report:

In our fiscal year 2011, Darden’s restaurants contributed nearly 10 million pounds of cooked food to local food banks across the United States and Canada during one of the toughest economic periods in recent history, worth over $90 million. This effort, which began with just 20 Darden restaurants in 2004, now includes the full participation of our more than 1,900 restaurants, who together this year, will officially surpass 50 million pounds of high quality, wholesome food donations to families in need since the program’s inception.

I LOVE this program. Not because I’ve had the privilege to work with Feeding America and ConAgra Foods on programs addressing the issue of child hunger. And not just because I’m passionate about the critical issue of hunger in the United States (which I am). No, I love the Darden Harvest Program because it goes beyond basic cause marketing. Darden didn’t make a donation to a cause du jour just so one of its executives could be in a photo opp with an oversized check and get credit for doing good. No – the company tackled this from a true Corporate Social Responsibility perspective:

Sustainability – As part of the restaurant industry in the United States, Darden contributes to the 14 billion pounds of food are sent to landfills each year. How can it lessen the company’s environmental impact by keeping that good food out of landfills?

Corporate Citizenship – What can the company and its restaurants uniquely give to help address the issues its local communities are facing? How can the company and its employees truly make a positive impact on society?

Economic – How can the company operate more efficiently to recognize cost savings, grow its profits, and attract and retain quality employees?

Darden Restaurants offers a fantastic example of what we at Standing try to educate our clients about Corporate Social Responsibility, especially from the Corporate Citizenship perspective: 

  1. Audit your current charitable efforts. Many times, companies don’t have a handle on all the different ways they (and their employees) give. Evaluate all your activities and you might find an amazing program to elevate, just like Darden.
  2. Evaluate what you uniquely can give. Darden gives food. Crocs donates shoes through its Crocs Cares program. And Dow Corning sends employee teams out on volunteer assignments through its Citizen Service Corps . What can your company give that no one else can? 
  3.  Research and determine the best partner. Many companies are drawn to the marketing and brand power of major non-profit organizations, whether it’s a strategic fit for the company or not. It’s important not to be lured in by a charity’s marketing machine. You need to do your homework on which organization is the right partner for you. 
  4. Invest in the effort for the long haul. It really frustrates me when clients want to focus on the issue of literacy one month, then they move on to saving the whales the next. If you truly want to make an impact, you have to commit to one or two main issues and devote your resources there. Don’t be led from your path by the media darling cause of the moment.

At Standing, we are committed to good corporate citizenship – not only for our clients, but for ourselves. Over the past 20 years, we have donated our time and communications expertise to more than 100 area organizations, including Kidsmart, St. Louis PetLover Coalition, and United Way. We’ve also rolled up our sleeves and donated our volunteer time to groups like Variety and Habitat for Humanity. We also have planned four Done-in-a-Day projects this year… for example, we’re looking forward to spending a Friday afternoon later this month at the St. Louis Area Food Bank helping sort and box food – and whatever else they need us to do.

As you think about giving – either your company, you personally, or an organization you’re involved with – ask yourself the question: What can we uniquely give that will make a difference on a critical issue in our community?

What are your favorite corporate citizenship programs or the best examples of companies doing good you’ve seen?