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Who Benefits Most From Charity Tie-Ins?

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It’s charity season again and last night, while watching a television program on the amount of fat, salt and sugar in breakfast cereals (I am a nerd and proud), I saw an advert featuring Gordon Ramsay. He has a range of sauces out for Children in Need, and “and least” 10p from ever jar sold will go to the charity. Ten pence? Ten pence? I won’t pretend to know exactly how much it costs to produce a jar of pasta sauce, but I’d imagine that profit margins are not so squeezed that a 10p donation is an act of largesse.

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the United States. While the parade of pink can seem overwhelming, it turns out that many of the themed products and promotions run by companies may not actually benefit any breast cancer charities; or, if they do, the amount that they actually give to charity is capped. After they’ve made their quota, everything else is profit. I’m not spitting mad, because I have a fairly eccentric approach to charitable giving, but I am a little surprised at the brazen bandwagon-hopping.

From a business point of view, being associated with a charity is a good thing. You get to burnish your social responsibility credentials while not having to do much, and you are seen to be doing good away from your core activities. Consumers too get to feel warm and fuzzy about contributing to a cause, simply by changing their buying habits. If the cause is one dear to their hearts, they may even switch brands permanently. But do the charities who are supposedly being helped actually see a tangible advantage in these efforts, or is it mostly smoke and mirrors?

While corporate sponsorship has its place, and can be tremendously beneficial to charities, there is something off about using a charity event to increase profits, even when backed by good intentions. Consumers may think that by buying charity products that they are making a contribution, but I’d be willing to lay good money on the fact that the majority overestimate how much of their purchase will actually end up in the hands of a charity, if at all. It has reached the stage now that along with the carol-backed advertisements on television heralding the start of the Christmas season, so too come the newspaper articles reminding us to beware of which charity cards we buy to send to our loved ones.

On balance, it does seem that there seems to be more in it for businesses than the charities they purport to help. While I’m sure the money they donate is appreciated, the PR boost they get from being associated with a charity seems to outweigh any contribution they make. For consumers, it is yet another case of caveat emptor; while there will be those who obsess over whether they ought to buy a charity-branded product or service, for others it may simply be easier to donate directly, whether with money or time.

[Image by Annie Mole]

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