American Express and Corporate Social Responsibility
As I noted over at the Conglomerate, American express just launched what it termed a new “cause-related marketing campaign.” The campaign was launched during the Oscars through two commercials featuring socially responsible ventures. One venture was the Harlem Children’s Zone. According to its website: called “one of the most ambitious social-service experiments of our time,” by The New York Times, the Harlem Children’s Zone Project is a unique, holistic approach to rebuilding a community so that its children can stay on track through college and go on to the job market.” The other was Patagonia, a company that sells outdoor clothing and gear, and whose mission statement reads: “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” As I noted, both commercials highlight socially responsible companies–and how those businesses are making it work.
The commercials also highlighted American Express’ commitment to social responsibility via Members Project–a project whereby American Express partnered with Take Part to provide people with a relatively easy way to participate in charitable giving. Participation can come in three different ways. People can vote once a week for their favorite charity, and the five charities that receive the most votes each get a $200,000 donation from American Express. People can volunteer through Members Project, and in exchange American Express cardholders can receive membership reward points while non-cardholders can donate such points to their favorite charity. Finally, people can simply donate to their favorite charity. American express calls its participation in the Members Project and Take Part the company’s “next step in its mission to empower positive change.”
Of course, there is always the cynical charge that corporate social responsibility is little more than a public relations ploy to curry favor. However, the two featured companies appear to have made social responsibility a core part of their business plan. Moreover, it is important to note that charitable giving is down even as the need for charitable services is up. This is no surprise given the economic downturn. But it means that campaigns like the American Express one–particularly the commitment to make donations based on voting–represent a welcome effort for many struggling charities.