Implications for Corporate Citizenship
By Doug Pinkham
Public Affairs Council President
The public wants major companies to be full, active partners in tackling the big problems that have traditionally been the province of government, says a new study on American attitudes about business.
The Public Affairs Pulse, a survey of 1,753 American adults, was commissioned by the Public Affairs Council and conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Both are nonpartisan and nonpolitical organizations.
For obvious reasons, nine in 10 want big companies involved in improving the economy and creating jobs. But there is also majority support for business involvement in:
- Providing community services such as food banks, free clinics and job training for the poor (80 percent);
- Providing relief for disasters like floods, tornadoes and earthquakes (76 percent);
- Improving health care (73 percent);
- Improving education (72 percent); and
- Improving roads, bridges and mass transit (56 percent).
What’s more, in four of these five cases, most Americans express strong support for business involvement.
Yet, despite the dollars and volunteer hours many companies currently invest in corporate citizenship endeavors, 57 percent of respondents say major companies are generally not doing a good job of “contributing to their communities.” Only 35 percent say firms are doing well on that front. In addition, 56 percent think major companies are not doing a good job of protecting the environment.
While it appears that companies may not be receiving recognition for community involvement programs, corporate contributions to charities and local community groups do have a positive impact on a company’s public image, says the report. Fully four in five (81 percent) say they view major businesses more favorably if they make large contributions to such organizations.
Negative views about top business leaders seem to color attitudes toward CEOs joining with government leaders to help solve the nation’s problems. Only 46 percent support such direct involvement. A bare majority (51 percent) take the view that it is better to keep business and government separate and not involve business leaders.
Based on these data, it’s clear that major companies need to do more to communicate their efforts to support local communities, make the public aware of corporate citizenship programs and demonstrate their commitment to sustainable business practices.
It’s also clear that corporations need to figure out how to set realistic expectations for their role as corporate citizens. A company can support good schools, healthy diets, safe neighborhoods, clean water, financial literacy and other goals that Americans strive to achieve. It can also be a partner with government agencies and others to provide disaster relief. But few corporations would want to be primarily responsible for the condition of the nation’s roads, bridges and mass transit systems. Though some state and local governments may lack the funds to support essential services, it’s difficult to expect the private sector to play a primary role.