Improving reputation by choosing causes

December 01, 1996

In their second article, Stephen Welch and Charlotte Hines of MORI examine the different projects companies can chose to support when trying to improve their reputations. During the summer, MORI again conducted its annual survey of attitudes to corporate social responsibility, the seventh year running. In the last issue of Community Affairs Briefing, we presented results showing that knowledge of community involvement is important to the general public in forming a view of corporate reputation. We also showed that corporate social responsibility is even more important to ‘activists’ and opinion formers than to members of the general public.

Here we examine data which shows in more detail exactly what people think companies ought to be doing, so helping to make choices over types of projects and causes to support.


MORI gave people a list of possible causes and asked how important it is that companies support them. Top of the list are:


job creation

promoting energy efficiency

offering services to disabled people.

Giving people the same list, MORI also tested perceptions of what companies actually do at present. Highest on the list are:

national sport

donations to charities.

Although these two top the list, the public sees them as relatively low priorities fro companies, for example preferring companies to get involved and start partnerships with charities, rather than just give money.

In contrast, awareness is lower for:

supporting employees’ involvement

inner-city improvement

support for hospitals.

So companies which seek to enhance their reputations through corporate community involvement can have most impact by being seen to address issues which are perceived as important and where little activity is currently apparent.

However demands vary greatly by sector: priorities for oil companies are seen to include environmental care and investing in Britain. Utilities on the other hand should, according to the public, improve service to customers and promote energy efficiency. A particular emphasis for supermarkets and retailers is local (as opposed to national for oil companies and banks): providing employment, while there is disproportionate demand for pharmaceutical companies to help charities or projects in their field.

Arts sponsorship

MORI asked questions about sponsorship. One in five are aware of companies’ sponsorship of the arts but the importance accorded to it is low on the list of priorities. MORI probed this further, comparing attitudes among the general public with those of activists. Top of the list for both are environmental projects, with more than half (52%) of the general public saying they are important compared to just 13% for sponsorship of performing arts. However activists are twice as supportive of the arts as members of the general public, perhaps because they are likely to attend arts venues. The fact that the arts are important for certain key audiences shows that the choice of cause to support is critical; and depends on the group one is trying to communicate with.

Based on this data, we can conclude, first, that companies do need to be active corporate citizens if they are to maintain a good reputation, but, second, that the best reputations will be won by companies that chose their projects and activities carefully in accordance with other communications objectives.

For more information, contact Charlotte Hines or Stephen Welch on 0171 928 5955

Note: the 1996 MORI Annual Survey of Corporate Social Responsibility was carried out among a nationally representative sample of 1,948 people aged 15 or over, interviewed face-to-face in their homes across Britain. Interviewing was conducted between August 20-25, 1996.

Corporate Citizenship Briefing, issue no: 31 – December, 1996

The authors are researchers at Mori