Porter Novelli

Note: The following is a guest post from Bill Novelli, the first in a series based on his comments from a co-convening of Social Capital and Points of Light. Most of the attendees were corporate execs, with a smattering of nonprofit execs included. The event was a joint session with Social Capital and Points of Light that sought to understand how to approach partnerships and where to go from there. It took place in Alexandria, VA on Feb. 23. You can read the introduction to the post here, part one of the series here, part two here, part three here and part four here.

Expect attacks and criticisms (no good deed goes unpunished)

Bill NovelliMy uncle, a bombardier in World War II, says, “If you’re not taking flack, you’re not over the target.” That pretty much spells it out. There are the usual criticisms of companies engaged in social responsibility programs, including charges of hypocrisy, self-interest, a thirst for publicity, green washing, the misuse of corporate resources and so forth.

Then there are the attacks on companies working on positive social change and at the same time pursuing sales of products that may not measure up to social standards. Examples are PepsiCo, McDonald’s, Burger King and so forth. They may be promoting health messages to kids, but, critics say, “Look at what they’re really selling.”

We also have companies doing good works, such as Coca Cola’s clean water initiatives and their shared impact programs in Brazil and Peru and elsewhere, but at the same time being attacked for an unrelated issue that makes even the shared impact programs suspect. In Coke’s case, the attack is for setting up a kind of astroturf initiative, the nonprofit Global Energy Balance Network, to further the company’s interests regarding obesity and nutrition.

And then there are the attacks on nonprofits for collaborating with companies and industries at all, under any circumstances. The Nature Conservancy came under fire for sleeping with the enemy when it was disclosed that they had partnered with shale oil fracking companies. And the American Heart Association was criticized for working with soft drink companies to get full calorie beverages out of schools.

Some of these are one-week stories. Others are low-grade fevers that burn on and on. The digital world can prolong just about anything. Attacks and criticisms will continue whether or not companies engage in coalitions and collaborations for good. You can be prepared, and have contingency plans for your organization and your partners. But as you step out and engage, and become visible in doing so, attacks and criticisms will potentially increase.