It was about three years ago that I formally began supporting Emirati children suffering from autism. I was blessed that the company I work for was also passionate about the cause and wanted to jump on-board.
In the spirit of the UAE’s 44th National Day, we recently organised an art gallery displaying 20 oil paintings produced by students from the Abu Dhabi Autism Centre. Within two hours, the gallery was sold out. The buyers were CEOs and senior executives from leading Abu Dhabi institutions, who all wanted to support the children.
One acquaintance recently asked what else we do to raise awareness about autism besides organising art events to highlight the children’s talents.
I explained that we also encourage our partners to help raise awareness of the condition. We don’t just write cheques to show that we are helping, our aim is also to create impact.
For example, we connected with the marketing team at Aldar, asking the developer to support our initiative. And they did so – displaying some artwork in their headquarters as well helping to raise awareness of the autistic children’s talents among their employees and clients.
Other partners include Katakeet, a childrenswear boutique, which sold special date boxes during Ramadan, with the profits raised going towards the centre.
So, is corporate social responsibility (CSR) important for your business? You bet it is.
The IEG sponsorship report highlighted that cause sponsorship – sponsoring a specific cause as part of CSR - is predicted to reach $1.9 billion in the US this year, an increase of 3.7 per cent on 2014. Moreover, a study by Cone Communications on social impact revealed that 89 per cent of US consumers are likely to switch to brands associated with a cause.
So how do you start integrating CSR into your brand’s work?
1. Find a matching cause
By matching cause, I mean you should choose a charitable initiative that is in line with your brand’s mission and values. Look at local institutions and you will notice that many have adopted CSR and integrated it into their business. Etihad Airways, for example, supports start-up entrepreneurs funded through the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, by having one of the businesses produce the business and first-class personal care kit pouches.
2. Don’t keep your CSR work discreet
Highlight the fact you support a charity on your website, social media channels, email signatures and in-store. My company boardroom displays four oil paintings produced by autistic children. We make sure the cause is embedded in different areas of our work. Provide a brief background on your website about why you support a particular charity or mission, and how others could join you.
3. Get your clients and consumers involved
Many would like to help if given a chance. To get your consumers on board, you could sell specific products, where the proceedings go to a charity. Or invite your partners and sister companies to join the cause. They do not need to donate money every time. Perhaps they could dedicate a venue for a charitable event, or take part by dedicating professional working hours to provide advisory work.
Another way to involve consumers is to let them take part in a focus group about how your business could raise awareness more effectively. What could it do better? Should they be following such an approach?
H&M, one of the world’s largest clothing retailers, invites customers to recycle unwanted clothes. Customers can drop the items that they do not want and the company recycles the fabric. This is part of their environmental sustainability efforts, which have become very popular. They also sell a range of clothing made out of recyclable fabrics.
Research by Nielsen found that consumers are willing to pay additional money to companies that are doing good. The great thing about cause sponsorship is that by supporting a charitable venture, you could retain existing customers, and attract new ones. It is also a great way to market your business.
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and communications consultant based in Abu Dhabi. Twitter: @manar_alhinai