Don’t Be An Altruistic Angel

Don’t Be An Altruistic Angel

By Wayne Dunn, President & Founder, CSR Training Institute

Why hide self-interest? Do you really think you are fooling anyone? Be upfront about what is in it for you.

Last week I was doing some work on corporate social responsibility and stakeholder communications. As I reviewed various communications I was amazed at how often companies either hid, disguised or ignored their self-interest.

In case after case, stakeholder and CSR projects were presented as solely in the interests of the stakeholders and ‘recipients’. The company’s interest was never mentioned and often the language suggested that the company’s sole motivation was to make the world a better place.

Give me a break! Does anyone believe that?

Who inside these companies actually thinks that the people who watch their videos or read their materials are going to really believe that it is all about the ‘recipients’ and the company doesn’t have any self-interest?

One case I looked at was a great supply chain development project. It created a lot of value for local producers in rural Africa and supported rural infrastructure development. A true winner of a project.

At the same time it reduced the companies need for expensive imported raw materials, reduced their foreign exchange exposure and created a valuable marketing opportunity for a new product. A real win win project.

While the company didn’t overtly position itself as an altruistic angel, not once did they acknowledge the value the company realized from the project.

Hiding self-interest is not only futile, it often negates much of the goodwill that can be created by the project in the first place.

To begin with, not acknowledging self-interest or, worse, hiding behind ‘do-gooderism’ isn’t credible, seems deceptive, and raises questions about what else the company might be trying to hide. For any company that values open, honest communications it is a huge step backwards.

Secondly, it presents what could well be a strong, mutually beneficial project in a donor-recipient framework. This not only creates the perception of inequality, it effectively diminishes both parties.

Let’s be honest. There is value in it for the company or else why would they do it? No company that I know of, or that plans to exist for long, is in the business of spending shareholder’s money without an expectation of value coming back to them. Why would they?

It is far better to openly acknowledge self-interest AND the interest of stakeholders and/or society. Be clear that the project meets needs of the company AND of stakeholders, that by collaborating each is getting something they want.

This puts partners on a more equal footing, is seen as infinitely more credible by all concerned and ultimately makes the project more sustainable and the company more believable.

And, most importantly, it helps the company to build trust and stronger relationships.

Wayne DunnA veteran of 20+ years of award winning CSR and sustainability work, Wayne Dunn is President & Founder of the CSR Training Institute and Professor of Practice in CSR at McGill.  He’s a Stanford University Sloan Fellow with a M.Sc. in Management from Stanford University Graduate School of Business. He develops and delivers training programs worldwide and consults on strategy, economics and operations to industry, government and international organizations.  His work has won major international awards and has been used extensively as ‘best-practice’ by industry and academia, including being made into a Stanford Business School Case Study.