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Corporate Focus: More Companies Choosing One Charity or Cause to Support With AM-Pet

December 11, 1994

Corporate Focus: More Companies Choosing One Charity or Cause to Support With AM-Pet Projects-List

NEW YORK (AP) _ Liz Claiborne Inc. hopes to draw attention to domestic violence, while Avon Products Inc. focuses on women’s health issues and The Stride Rite Corp. on the plight of inner city children.

In recent years companies like these have begun concentrating their corporate giving on a specific issue or project rather than donating to a variety of unconnected charities.

The new policy often results from dwindling resources as companies slash costs. In other cases, the chosen cause has become part of the corporate ethos. In still others, it is a neat marketing ploy.

Corporate boards ″have suggested that in a period of downsizing every single corporate asset be directed to helping the corporate objective,″ said Robert Dilenschneider, who heads a public relations firm under his name.

But besides the more obvious issue of less money to go around, the movement toward clustering contributions reflects changes in public attitudes.

A survey taken last year found that while in the 1980s consumers sought brand names and the values associated with them, in the ’90s, products must conform to consumer values.

″People are settling down and values are more important than material goods,″ said Carol Cone of Cone-Coughlin Communications, Inc., a Boston public relations firm that conducted the study with Roper-Starch Worldwide Inc.

Cone and others saw the trend as a way to build companies’ public image. A phrase was coined to describe the phenomenon: cause-related marketing.

Many companies balk at the term, saying the issues they have chosen to promote have nothing to do with furthering corporate objectives. But Stephen A. Greyser, professor of marketing at Harvard Business School, said the two are often inseparable.

″Lots of companies used to sponsor specific projects or charities without a handle on the payback,″ Greyser said. ″But that doesn’t happen much any more. Companies want to see what they are getting.″

One company where corporate purpose is closely tied to giving is Polaroid, which has contributed significantly to local shelters for battered women in recent years.

The company, says spokesman Bob Guenther, decided to focus on domestic violence because executives saw the issue spilling over into the workplace, causing absenteeism as well as drug and alcohol abuse.

At the same time, however, Polaroid promotes its cameras for use by law enforcement agencies to document incidents of alleged abuse.

″In an era of diminishing budgets for giving, we must focus on areas where we will do most good,″ said Guenther.

As a company reliant on technology, Polaroid also contributes to efforts to improve science and math teaching.

There are other economic rationales for being socially responsible, said Arnold Hiatt, former CEO of Stride Rite and now head of The Stride Rite Charitable Foundation.

″Consumers are increasingly aware of what companies do and don’t do,″ Hiatt said. ″They appreciate firms that are trying to make a difference.″

Hiatt said that while he was chairman of Stride Rite he received letters from parents who said they went out of their way to buy his higher-priced children’s shoes because they felt the money was being used responsibly.

The company, which during Hiatt’s tenure contributed 5 percent of pretax earnings to its foundation, focuses on helping inner city children.

In working-class Roxbury, where the corporate headquarters once was, the company started a child-care center for employee and community children. Free dental, medical and psychological attention is also provided for poor children in collaboration with a local hospital.

In addition, Stride Rite has a mentoring program with two Boston-area inner city schools in which employees participate on company time.

Besides the benefits in corporate image, there are gains to be made in employee commitment to the company, Hiatt said. ″Our community giving makes employees feel they are working for company that cares.″

Some companies link their entire operations to a specific project or theme. One of those is Ryka Inc., the maker of women’s athletic shoes started by Sheri Poe seven years ago.

″About two years ago I started to feel that having a quality product was not enough, that the company was missing a soul and a heart,″ Poe said. ″My eyes became opened to the issue of violence against women.″

Poe, who was raped at 19 on a college campus, started the Ryka Rose Foundation, to which her company contributes 7 percent of pretax profits, overhead costs and an additional $10,000 a quarter.

Each pair of Ryka shoes bears a tag with tips on avoiding assault and the company provides retail outlets with brochures on domestic violence. The foundation supports battered women’s shelters, provides grant money to outreach groups and offers a telephone hotline.

Although the company has received a lot of publicity as a result of its efforts, Poe says that was not the intent.

Liz Claiborne, another company focusing on the issue of women and violence, launched a campaign in 1992 to draw attention to the problem with message- laden coffee mugs, T-shirts, posters and brochures.

″The company was founded 18 years ago to provide new solutions in women’s lives, a new way of dressing, of making their lives easier and better but about four years ago I began to feel strongly there was a component missing,″ said Wendy Banks, senior vice president for marketing. ″I felt we needed to give back to the women of America who had made us so successful.″

In researching major social issues, Banks said, the company recognized that domestic violence was one of the most underfunded issues in America. She said public awareness had to be raised about the problem.

At the same time, she said, the campaign had an economic reason for its largesse.

″We deal with the consumer in a holistic way,″ Banks said. ″Women have to feel good about themselves to be consumers of any product. Healthy and happy women are those who achieve and have more disposable income.″

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