Back to School CSR Initiatives: Does Mega Brand Cause Marketing always = Sustainable Social Change?

As reported by Cone, Inc., in late August, this year’s Back to School, included a bevy of cause related initiatives from Corp’s ranging from Target to JC Penney.


The Give with Target, campaign allowed Facebook users to ask for votes for their favorite school on a Cause page; for every 25 votes, the Company donated a $25 gift certificate to the school for up to $10,000 per school. This is part of Target’s commitment to raise $1 billion for K-12 education by 2015. So far they have raised $2.5 million for American Schools.



The large reach potential of  established brand recognition, coupled with huge marketing budgets to launch and run campaigns, means that the impact (in dollars) of CSR ‘philanthropy,’  (even via individual campaigns, such as Target’s) is massive. But it raises the issue of any campaign’s potential for sustainable social impact. Yes, Target has to date, raised $2.5 million for American Schools, but what does that money provide? Does it go for lobbying for better education in D.C, or to specific educational programs like preparing more girls for scientific careers, or to individual school’s overhead? Its one thing to click a like button. It’s another to do the ‘homework’ necessary to calculate the true power of your social media donation.


True Social Entrepreneurialism is characterized by innovation (from the isomorphic pressures of an established system), so in the realm of girls and science education, it may produce something like the  Solar Sister’s Girl Empowerment Program that:

advances girls’ science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education through deliberate strategies to connect learning with real-life experiences incorporating technology and business skills, and provide expanded access to clean energy technologies that enhance educational performance. Working closely with a Solar Sister mentor, the girls learn about solar technology, environmental and health benefits of clean energy technologies, and have the opportunity to participate in enterprise activities, directly earning income for school improvement projects.”


Solar Sister is committed to educate and empower 100 girls in Uganda, “where a growing number of households are headed by widowed women, and the face of poverty is predominately female. A World Bank report, Gender and Economic Growth in Uganda, concludes that while women comprise 80% of all unpaid workers, laboring on family farms or other informal work scenarios, research suggest that Ugandan women are highly entrepreneurial.*

Target is not in the education, or education innovation business. And therefore the primary ’cause’ in its marketing, may be increasing its brand recognition in different demographic segmentations, and certain possible tax advantages to the corporation.

True, sustainable social change, may be better realized through public private partnerships, leveraging target’s resources, and learned social changemakers, targeting specific social issues with market, or product innovation.

Companies such as JCPenney and Office Depot, came closer to this concept with their respective initiatives. The “JCP Cares” program offered free haircuts for K-6 students, with a $1 donation to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America or 4-H, who will spend the money on established mission related projects.

Office Depot launched the “We Supply Kindness” campaign in partnership with the Born This Way Foundation, which seeks to ‘build a kinder, braver world that ccelebrates individuality and empowers young people.’


Office Depot produced a line of limited-edition products featuring inspirational messages, and will donate 25% of the sales price of each product to support the Foundation, which is specifically in the youth empowerment ‘business,’ with established programs that directly impact this mission.

There is no doubt that the potential impact from big firms on social inititaives is immense (and heartening) in an age of an increasingly competitive social services market place. However, true and lasting change should include the efforts of changemakers, foundations, charities and NGO’s, to help funnel the money that is being thrown around, into successful and impactful social innovation programs, services, and initiatives.

For more on the potential of public private philanthropy, see Multi-Sector Strategy for Social Innovation, posted by dwbdg, on September 3rd.





One thought on “Back to School CSR Initiatives: Does Mega Brand Cause Marketing always = Sustainable Social Change?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s