social responsibility

By Rieva Lesonsky

Social responsibility—that is, giving back to your community—not only has the obvious effect of helping those you give to, but the less obvious one of helping your business improve its image and attract more customers.

It’s a phenomenon called the “benevolent halo effect:” when companies demonstrate social responsibility, consumers perceive their products as being better quality, a study in the Journal of Consumer Research reports.

For example, when consumers were told a winery made donations to the American Heart Association, they rated the company’s wine as better tasting. They also believed that a variety of products, ranging from tooth whiteners to running shoes, performed better when they were told that the companies donated to charity.

Although this study focused on donations to charity, the success of companies such as Tom’s Shoes in recent years has shown that going beyond just writing a check to being actively involved in social responsibility is an even better way to consumers’ hearts. If you’d like to enjoy the benevolent halo effect for your business, here are some tips:

  • Choose an activity that’s not only close to your heart, but also relevant to your business. For example, if you own a women’s boutique and you care about helping the homeless, consider donating clothing to a group that helps homeless women find jobs, or visiting the organization and giving them fashion makeovers.
  • Enlist your whole team in the project. Let your employees suggest ideas for a charity and activity, then vote on the winner so they’ll be as enthused about giving back to that cause as you are.
  • Get your customers on board. Enlisting customers in the cause gets them engaged with your business and builds a strong relationship. For example, the boutique could hold a clothing drive to collect used clothes for homeless women, or let customers know that your team will volunteer at the homeless shelter a certain time every week and they’re welcome to help, too.

One thing not to do: Don’t advertise your social responsibility. The study found that the benevolent halo effect diminished when companies blatantly advertised their good works. Instead, use social media and public relations outreach to promote your cause in a more subtle fashion. That way, you won’t turn customers off, but will inspire them to join in with you in giving back to the community.