Editorial: Beware propping up corporate reputations

Tania Mason, deputy editor

So UK Ltd and plc, for all its earnest talk about corporate responsibility and membership of FTSE4 Good and Business in the Community, can only manage to scrape together enough loose change for 1 per cent of the voluntary sector's income.

Okay, so the figure doesn't include gifts in kind or money from corporate foundations. Even so, it's a statistic that should embarrass the private sector. Far from being ashamed, however, it seems defiant, indignant even.

In response to our Hot Issue question this week -'Should the private sector give more to charity?' - the CBI's Digby Jones declares that businesses already do plenty and should blow their trumpets louder. The free-market Adam Smith Institute, meanwhile, blames the Government for overtaxing companies and reducing their ability to give.

The salt in the wound is the public's misguided perception that businesses stump up a quarter of the sector's revenue. True, this research is now two years old - nobody seems to have asked Joe Public this question since January 2004 - but it is unlikely to have changed wildly.

Quite how the private sector has managed to rose-tint the lens through which the public views it deserves some scrutiny. Are corporate PR executives really that good at their jobs? Or should charities bear some responsibility for being too ready to lend their valuable, trusted brands for a fast buck?

Everywhere you look, you see cause-related marketing and charity-of-the-year tie-ups. Charities make good money from them, but it's usually a company's staff and customers that provide most, if not all, of the cash.

Yet companies have no qualms about attaching a charity's brand to their own and shamelessly reaping the PR rewards.

Only recently have service-delivery charities admitted that, by accepting contracts that don't meet costs, they have contributed to the Government's woeful record on full-cost recovery. By selling themselves short, they subsidised the state - but at least they did so in the interests of their beneficiaries. Charities that undervalue themselves in deals with business are subsidising only corporate reputations.

Perhaps what is needed is a best practice code for charity-of-the-year deals that sets a standard minimum contribution from participating businesses' bottom lines. Charities must set the bar higher in their dealings with the private sector. They still occupy the moral high ground, and businesses that want to join them on it must pay the right price.

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