The effective communication of corporate social investment (CSI) is crucial for strengthening relationships between companies and their stakeholders. However, there is a general perception that CSI communication often lacks authenticity and fails to facilitate meaningful reflection or education on developmental issues.

A panel discussion held at Trialogue’s 2017 Business in Society Conference, facilitated by Shani Kay of Regency Foundation Networx, explored whether communicating CSI could go beyond enhancing a company’s reputation, towards achieving broader social impact.

According to Kay, despite the trust deficit between business and society, there are significant and impactful interventions being delivered by business. She emphasised the need for companies to find authentic ways to communicate their CSI work, which could help to strengthen their credibility and relationship with stakeholders, build trust with communities, and even bring awareness to social issues – thereby having broader social value.

Keri-Leigh MacDonald of Nation Builder Trust – an organisation that enables businesses to maximise their CSI by connecting them with resources and like-minded partners – underscored the need for communication to be thought about and implemented as a social development strategy in itself. She also underscored the potential of communication to facilitate knowledge-sharing in development.

Jeanne du Plessis of P&G – a large consumer goods company – spoke about CSR as a significant reputation driver. “For us, CSR or CSI – whatever you call it – cannot be separate from what your business does every day, and how you fit into society. But CSR is not a silver bullet to building your reputation,” said du Plessis.

She explained that, at P&G, emphasis is placed on ethics, social and environmental responsibility, diversity and inclusion, community impact and gender equality. P&G has taken an especially strong stance on the latter, by using the ‘voices’ of its brands, which each have their own notable platforms. “We try to remove barriers for women economically and for girls in education. In our workplace, we make sure that women have an equal voice. This is broader than CSI – it’s about harnessing the power of your entire organisation, to be a voice for good,” said du Plessis.

Cause marketing

Thabisa Mkhwanazi of KFC Africa spoke about the company’s Ad Hope campaign, which started in South Africa about nine years ago and allows consumers to add R2 onto the cost of their meal. KFC also contributes a percentage of its turnover to the cause. The project feeds 120 000 children every day. Mkhwanazi explained that KFC wanted to use its restaurants’ broad geographical reach to make an impact. She said that the synergy between the company and campaign helped to make communication easier. “CSI should not be a transaction. We wanted something ongoing and active in our restaurants. It lives within our DNA,” said Mkhwanazi.

Asked why the R2 was a donation, rather than worked into the cost of the meal, Mkhwanazi said that KFC wanted to facilitate and empower franchisees and customers to work with the company to do good. Franchisees can also select beneficiaries, so they have the option and ability to tell customers exactly where their donations go. Mkhwanazi further explained that, if R2 was added into the cost of a meal, it would risk being cut if the business experienced pressure.

Perception and awareness

Kedibone Molopyane of Nedbank said that the bulk of the company’s R141 million CSI budget goes to education. “The trick in CSI communication is that we always look at perception and awareness. At Nedbank, we look at communicating CSI as positioning us as a great place to bank and to work.

Molopyane spoke about Nedbank’s Affinity Programmes, which allow customers to contribute to causes such as the arts, conservation or the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. “We want our staff to feel like they can help. Our volunteering and staff giving is increasing every year. We want our staff and customers to buy into our CSI. We also want to influence people to do good,” said Molopyane. She also shared the company’s aim to be transparent and accountable to its staff, clients and investors.

Strengthening communication between companies and non-profits

Panellists were questioned about companies’ lack of responsiveness to email requests from non-profits. MacDonald explained that CSI departments often have much smaller staff complements than other departments within the business. There should be a process for responses. We always respond, but we often get a lot of questions about why we won’t fund, which is frustrating when our requirements are listed in detail on the website. Even as an ‘under-the-radar foundation’, we still get between 50 and 60 emails in a quiet week.”

Mkhwanazi recommended that non-profits look for synergies, thereby making it easier for companies to process their requests. “Don’t send us generic emails. Ad Hope is mandated around feeding. When you send us a request for funding related to education or crime, it suggests that you have not engaged with what we do,” said Mkhwanazi.

Asked about the kind of communication that donors want to see from the beneficiaries that they support, MacDonald said that “it is so much more powerful when someone else communicates your story. It is wonderful for you to talk about your donors. Obviously talk more about the ones you have a long term relationship with. Also be careful – communicating about someone else means sharing their risks.”

Kay elaborated on the difference between authentic communication and advertising, and spoke about the value of collaboration between beneficiary and donor. “If produced properly, CSI communication can add emotional value. And if the corporate and NGO work together, it will be a stronger overall message,” said Kay.

 

This session was presented in partnership with

Panellists:

  • Jeanne du Plessis, P&G
  • Kedibone Molopyane, Nedbank
  • Keri-Leigh MacDonald, Nation Builder Trust
  • Thabisa Mkhwanazi, KFC Africa
  • Shani Kay, Regency Foundation Networx (facilitator)

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