Ins and outs of corporate sponsorship and philantropy
Sports teams come ahead of social responsibility
By Olavi Koistinen
Our company would do well to show that we do our part for the common good. But what is that?
Perhaps we should support the local football team. That way, at least we will know where the money goes. Also we can put on a team shirt and pose for a picture with the players on the edge of the pitch - not to mention being able to invite clients to matches!
It is approximately along these lines that many entrepreneurs, both small and medium-sized, decide on how to contribute to their communities.
But is this real social responsibility?
This is a question that has been asked by customer manager Antti Matilainen of the advertising agency Grey Pro Oy. Matilainen has examined the deep thinking in corporate souls. In February the firm commissioned a study by the market research company Taloustutkimus on the various causes that Finnish small and medium-sized companies contribute to.
Slightly more than 600 companies responded to the study. The results confirm the observation that was made already in 2006 when the same study was first conducted: sport was overwhelmingly the most popular target of sponsorship.
Of those companies that say that they donate any money to worthy causes, one in four mentioned sport as their primary target.
Matilainen believes that the support generally goes to local sport clubs. However, this aspect was not specifically asked. The second-most popular target was youth work.
Even in youth work, the activities that benefit it generally involve exercise and fitness programmes. However, many other types of leisure activities also get money, for instance, scouting.
Small and medium-sized companies also gave money to child protection, war veterans, and rescue services.
Respondents were also asked what kinds of causes the entrepreneur was willing to personally do voluntary work for.
The list of good intentions was quite similar to the list of real targets for corporate charity. Entrepreneurs would be willing to work primarily for youth work and sports clubs.
It seems that it is easiest to grab onto matters that touch one's own life. The material indicates that proportionately more corporate managers aged 40 to 49 report that their companies support youth work than those aged 50 to 59, Matilainen says.
This suggests that those corporate managers who have children of the right age for such activities, also spend sponsorship money on hobbies for youth.
Matilainen raises the question, whether or not choosing a target that is closest to one's own life is the most ethical choice, or even in the interest of the company itself.
"Should more thought be given to what business a company is in, and what the values of the company are?"
Naturally, there is nothing wrong with supporting sports clubs.
However, many other causes in need of money can be left in the cold.
According to the study, environmental protection, development cooperation, care for the elderly, spiritual work, arts and culture, science, as well as work for the disabled and in mental health have not gained as strong a foothold as targets of support for small and medium sized companies have, even though they have been the topic of much public discussion.
Perhaps businesses back sport because of the similarities with entrepreneurship.
Both involve a spirit of competition, and are discussed in the media using similar terminology. A company can be said to be "in good shape", or "ready to attack on a competitor's home turf".
Business owners like to appear in photographs with a winner, Matilainen says. With alcoholics or sick and elderly people, they prefer to stay out of shot.
Changes might be forthcoming in the future, if small and medium sized companies follow the international example.
Companies have begun to take interest in development aid and other social targets from a sponsorship point of view, says
Ritva Hanski-Pitkäkoski, managing director of the Association of Finnish Advertisers.
Although sport is clearly the most popular target for companies of all sizes, Hanski-Pitkäkoski notes that a new kind of trend began three or four years ago.
This was noticeable at a meeting of the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) in Mumbai, India, which Hanski-Pitkäkoski attended in early March. "The hottest topic of debate there was social responsibility", she says.
International companies "do fantastic things" in Asia to raise the standard of living of local people.
One techno-chemical firm recruited local women to travel from village to village to sell the company's soap in places that other sales channels could not reach.
The charitable aspect of the activity is that using soap significantly reduces stomach disorders among children, the most common cause of child mortality in India. At the same time, the company got plenty of new and loyal customers.
Small companies do not have the resources to go to the Far East and recruit itinerant merchants, but it is possible to give money at home as well. Small streams combine to make a mighty river.
Social responsibility does not mean that the responsibility needs to be borne in faraway places. There are worthy targets at home as well.
Still, supporting the local football team is often more attractive, because it gives a company clear visibility. As a target for sponsorship, sport is something of a product in itself. Sport sponsorship is often as simple as buying advertising space in a newspaper.
Matilainen feels that companies would do well to be more open-minded about how they would benefit from supporting a local artist or help for the elderly. Those who need support might ponder what they have to offer to a company.
"Visibility is only one part of the whole. I can't offer any ready solutions, but the Finnish Missionary Society, for instance, has plenty of people with lengthy experience in work in developing countries. They could even serve as consultants."
What about work against of drug and alcohol abuse?
"Drug testing of employees has become increasingly common. Experts in work against intoxicants could tell companies what benefits and disadvantages there are in the tests."
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 30.3.2008
OLAVI KOISTINEN / Helsingin Sanomat