The End of Corporate Social Responsibility

In the Havard Business School Conversation Starter blog, the authors of Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want argue that 2008 will see the beginning of the end for corporate social responsibility.

In an age when consumers factor in authenticity as a primary concern in the purchase of most any good, service, or experience, CSR will be seen for the sham that it is. Consumers will increasingly flock to enterprises that offer transformational change as the very substance of its offerings — be it in the form of vocational tourism, personal interventions, or even narcithropic giving — and reject initiatives that merely front as the means to sell more wares. Consumer dollars will flow less to promotional programs like (PRODUCT)Red and more to fully dedicated ventures like micro-lending site

In such times, businesses would be wise to stop giving a portion of revenues away to token causes, and instead start creating new businesses that explicitly charge consumers to help them help others. There is money to be made, unapologetically, in connecting individual consumers with worthwhile causes and thereby helping them make the aspirations of those causes become reality. Indeed, Individual Social Responsibility is an untapped market to be served in the coming year.

Wow! Those are some strong words. Do you agree? Do we need more companies “that explicitly charge consumers to help them help others”?

(Full disclosure: My firm, Ensemble Capital Management explicitly charges our clients to help them give better. And I deeply wish there were more firms that could help my clients in ways my firm does not. My clients would happily pay for the tools and knowledge they need to be better donors.)