• Corporate philanthropy and the art of painless listening

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    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    Reylito A.H. Elbo

    YOU’RE feeling generous and would want to do a CSR (corporate social responsibility) program no matter if people think your business is only several rungs higher than a neighborhood sari-sari store. After all, what’s important is your firm belief that helping people should not be a monopoly of major conglomerates that set aside one percent before tax of their anticipated current year revenue to help alleviate social issues.

    What do you do?

    OK, here’s a theoretical example. Suppose, you own a lotto outlet and you’ve decided that one way of giving back is to do a simple corporate philanthropy. You set aside a budget of P1,000 every month for your CSR. Would you give free P20 ticket each to the first 50 less privileged persons who are also your regular patrons lining up at your store every day?

    Or, with the same budget, would you pay a homeless man who will sweep clean the litter from your frontage?

    Think quickly. If you jumped for the free giveaway tickets to your loyal customers, you would have been like my nosy neighbor who thinks it is one CSR approach that lets you hook your patrons for life. Talk of a real corporate philanthropy that seeks to reconcile the interest of the business owner and the art of giving back to the society.

    For P1,000 a month, you’ll keep everyone’s addiction to low-level gambling, going from good to great, and so you think. That’s translating a CSR program into a different level of cause marketing or helping a cause and at the same time promoting your products or services.

    Can you see through this selfish if not irrational behavior?

    Well, not yet. But what if you post a warning similar to what tobacco manufacturers are compelled to do in their packaging that “tobacco is harmful to one’s health.”

    Maybe you can also a post a content warning similar to what the publisher of XKCD comics is doing: “Warning this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).”

    You can elevate your CSR program a bit higher than the rest by posting a sign on the lotto window that says something like this: “Warning: lotto is a form of gambling and can be a source of irritants between and among family members, unless you hit the jackpot, which comes once in a trillion.”

    Fair enough, isn’t? Be addictive at your own risk.

    But what’s wrong with “hiring” a homeless man to maintain the cleanliness of your sidewalk for P1,000 a month. At the same time, maybe you can adjust his job description so that he can be your de facto watch-your-car man or parking attendant? Throw in a package by donating your old clothes to the guy, who can also subsist on the tips given by your lotto customers.

    One question you’ll be probably miss to ask or is afraid to ask is this—How do you tell the homeless man to take a bath every day, before reporting for work?

    Now that we have seen the implications of the two choices, what option do you think can offer a far-reaching, positive effect against poverty—one of the social causes you’re trying to solve?

    To that question, Adam Smith (1723-1790), a Scottish moral and great economic thinker said: “Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favorable, and pain in their unfavorable regard.”

    Must decisions about helping others be based on the same cost-benefit analysis that we’re using when we buy a car, computer, or even cheese for a bowl of spaghetti?

    Of course, if you can. Maybe you need a template. Now, can you ask a friend to explain how he arrived at buying Samsung instead of an Apple smartphone or vice versa?

    If philanthropy is an imperative business strategy and if it is making us feel good, why are corporate practitioners so few that we can count them on our fingers—both hands and feet?

    Let me just close this piece by saying that I’ve made some fun testing the listening skills of my students in a basic course on CSR by forcing them to undergo a graded recitation. If I have to choose between people with ADHD and my business management students, there’s no doubt, I’m going with the latter.

    Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality as a fused interest. Send feedback to elbonomics@gmail.com or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.

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