Charity goes beyond the money

Although they may become annoyingly overused, buzzwords do provide interesting insight into what a particular industry is thinking about, what it observes as trends and how it may intend to influence its markets.

In recent years, "greenwashing" has been used to describe a company that enthusiastically markets its "green" efforts despite decidedly eco-unfriendly processes and practices. Now both the buzzword and the concept have been adapted to include broader socially responsible practices, including social investment, in "goodwashing".

The term acknowledges the well-researched and often-quoted rise in consumer interest in volunteering, social causes and responsible business practices, and reflects concern that companies and brands are exploiting that interest.

The same research, like that conducted by Nielsen in 2012, usually indicates that consumers appear more likely to purchase brands sharing their conscientiousness, so there is money to be made by companies that "care" about their communities, support local activism and make being "good corporate citizens" a core part of their identity.

To their credit, many companies genuinely are committed to social sustainability. Goodwashing occurs, however, when companies care more about how their social activity is perceived by their stakeholders and less about the social activity itself.

It occurs when a company's corporate social investment strategy is drafted by its brand or advertising agency without any input from development experts or partners, or when company "volunteer days" are shaped by what employees love to do, rather than by what their beneficiaries really need.

A company is in danger of goodwashing when their donations to charities or non-governmental organisations are once-off or sporadic and valued at less than the resources invested in talking about "their CSI".

Discerning consumers are learning the difference between goodwashing and impactful social investment. By avoiding goodwashing, companies also avoid negative sentiment and potentially a loss in revenue thanks to consumers who feel manipulated or, worse, lied to.

The best way to avoid goodwashing is to place social responsibility at the front and centre of business strategy in every department, from procurement to manufacturing, distribution to marketing. That way, social activities are a natural part of everyday business, not just an add-on to generate publicity.

They are also given their own strategic consideration. As a natural consequence, there is likely to be real, sincere impact to communicate to stakeholders.

Transparency around what is spent on social initiatives, what of that directly goes to beneficiaries (rather than, say, administrative costs) and what impact is achieved also contributes to the market perception that communication of social activities is sincere, rather than goodwashing.

And if "sincerity" becomes a buzz-word too, because that is really what communicators are aiming for, perhaps that is a good thing.

Dan Maré is editorial and language specialist at Tshikululu Social Investments Although this article has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian's advertisers, content and photographs were sourced independently by the M&G supplements editorial team. It forms part of a larger supplement.

We make it make sense

If this story helped you navigate your world, subscribe to the M&G today for just R30 for the first three months

Subscribers get access to all our best journalism, subscriber-only newsletters, events and a weekly cryptic crossword.”

Related stories


Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Latest stories

Opposition caucuses on panel for Ramaphosa impeachment probe

The parties want to leave the speaker little discretion in composing the panel that will decide whether there is a case for impeaching the president

Amazon may threaten SA retailers

Amazon plans to move into South Africa in 2023 and the world’s biggest online marketplace might give local companies a run for their money

Gallo celebrates 95 years

The history of Africa’s first record label is studded with successes — and controversies

Creecy shoots down Karpowership appeal but extends a lifeline to...

The Karpowership proposal lacked proper environmental assessments, according to the minister, with noise impacts specifically noted

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…