Are corporate CSR programs genuinely created to help the less fortunate amongst us or is it a case of image over substance?

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR as we know it, is nothing new (although the label itself is a relatively recent phenomenon). It’s one that represents a wide range of actions cobbled together under the CSR banner.

From my own experience of being involved in a number of heart-lifting CSR programs while on famils, I am reminded of one in Fiji not long after a devastating flood. Before we left to go there one company stepped up to say they had contacts that would donate goods suitable to the needs of school children. So great was the generous amount they gathered, Fiji Airways stepped in to help ship it over.

After a warm welcome by teachers and students at a school particularly affected by the floods, we proudly presented them with a mountain of goods. Later as we walked around the school where work was being done to the buildings, we had the distinct impression that they were doing alright and appeared to have quite a lot of donated goods from other concerned Australians.

When we asked one of the teachers what it was they really needed, he replied, “Computers and not necessarily new ones, just something for the children to learn on.”

Perhaps with a little more thought and exploration we might have been able to bring these with us or found a needier cause. It triggered me to question, are we doing it for their benefit or our own? Are we killing with kindness those who receive the most publicity or are featured in newspaper reports, while others less fashionably newsworthy get overlooked?

Talan Miller managing director of Sabre Corporate Development, a premium level designer and provider of team-building events, team and leadership development programs and business games, with a special partnership with the Leukaemia Foundation said, “CSR is often more about fluffy feels rather than any real needs from the end users.”

He went on to say that much corporate/MICE CSR is sadly very fad driven – pseudo altruism and more about a short term event.

“I find many companies are less concerned with what a charity may really need than what will look good for the marketing shots. Compare the commitment to the charity, to a portion of their bar bills, and it can be seen for the hypocrisy it often is,” he said.

“Companies particularly like bike builds because they seem cute,” he continued, “but they usually give heaps more than what a charity needs. All too often the executive PA and conference committee are about image over substance at conference time. If they were fair dinkum they’d give them cash or what it is they really need.

“Don’t get me wrong, some genuinely try to match a need to a cause and build a lasting relationship, but for most it’s a wank and they seek far more accolades for the very tiny gestures they make, than is deserved,” he said.

Hilton Worldwide had a single focus when they again partnered with the national children’s education charity The Smith Family in Australia, as part of the Careers@Hilton Live: Youth in Hospitality Month.

Under the partnership, Hilton Worldwide and The Smith Family cooperated on the Work Inspiration program that saw more than 150 disadvantaged youths gain work experience at one of the 13 participating Hilton Worldwide hotels in Australia during the month of May.

Through the partnership Hilton’s focus is to ensure the disadvantaged youth have access to the best available information, and are aware of the opportunities the industry provides.

Perhaps then it’s time for a wake-up call to businesses involved in CSR programs to stop, listen and take a long hard look at their motivation before they leap in willy, nilly.