I like to buy stuff from companies that have a philanthropic philosophy. Why? It makes me feel less guilty about spending my money on things that I really don't need. Take Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., for example. The fact that a pint of my favorite frozen decadence -- Wavy Gravy -- costs nearly $4.00 is somehow justified by the fact that the company gives 7.5% of its pretax earnings to various charities. And with all this love and giving in the air, I also forget that the same pint of Wavy Gravy has more calories than the recommended daily allowance for a grown man. Let's face it, those extra calories mean nothing compared with the greater good that is possible from my donation. Ice cream hawkers are not the only people on the philanthropy bandwagon. Sneaker companies, computer makers, even tobacco producers are privy to the power of giving. And, as the saying goes, what goes around comes around, and around, and around. Sure these companies may have big hearts, but it's the dollar signs in their eyes that keep them digging deeper. According to the Points of Light Foundation, 74% of corporate givers agree that volunteerism increases employee productivity, and 94% say it improves the corporate public image. It's a case of supply and demand. The adoring public is demanding more widgets from the community-friendly company, and the community-friendly company is complying because its workforce is happy and more productive. And this trend is catching on. Points of Light also states that a 1999 survey found that 81% of companies connect volunteering to their overall business strategies, compared with only 31% in 1992. Sounds like the corporate world is pulling a fast one on the consumer public, doesn't it? After all, these companies are using philanthropy as a vehicle to peddle their goods. Well, don't be so quick to judge. We are into a new millennium (depending on which theory you trust), full of resources and watchdogs. Most consumers are well aware of what they are buying, how much it really costs, and what kind of spin goes into selling it. They can call up a company's financial report with the click of a mouse and see the bottom line for themselves. In many instances consumers will see a line dedicated to "cause marketing" or "cause branding" -- which is a "business strategy that integrates a social cause or issue into a brand's personality and organizational identity," explains Carol Cone, CEO of Boston-based Cone Inc., a strategic marketing firm. According to a 1999 Cone Inc./Roper Starch Worldwide Inc. Cause-Related Trends Report, 74% of American consumers now find it acceptable for companies to engage in cause-related marketing. If Jill and Joe Shopper know the score and even embrace the tactics, what more could Corporate America and beyond ask for? How about winning the war of conscience? That's right, Jill and Joe's consumer loyalty is easily swayed by the company that gives the most. According to the Cause-Related Trends Report, nearly two-thirds of American consumers -- that's 130 million widget buyers -- say that if price and quality are equal, they are likely to switch to a brand or retailer associated with a good cause. But "swaydom" comes with a price. Companies not only have to concentrate on quality, price, and the bottom line, they also need to incorporate a citizenship program with lasting power. That's right -- lasting power. Consumers want to know that every time they buy their widgets, part of the proceeds are going to Save the Snipes or Preserve the Whatchamacallits. In fact, 80% consistently report that they prefer companies to commit to a specific cause for a long period of time, according to Cone/Roper. So instead of a one-time donation to the Historic Doodad Foundation, put some creativity, elbow grease, and money into an all-out philanthropic frenzy. And make sure you blow your horn to let every consumer know, because as far as I and my consuming brothers and sisters are concerned -- and we are deeply concerned -- we like working for a company that gives, we like buying from a company that gives, and we like the fact that the purchase of our cars, computers, shoes, coffee, pens, and desserts contributes to a greater cause.
Traci Purdum is an IW copy editor.