red apple with a bite taken out of it

According to a study of 166 large companies conducted by the The Chronicle of Philanthropy, charitable giving on the part of American corporations grew by 4% in 2011, and Apple Inc., a company who historically donated very little of its tremendous revenue to charity has opened a new, much more philanthropic chapter under Tim Cook’s leadership. While, Apple Maps may have received an unsatisfactory response from Apple’s loyal customer base, it seems that Cook’s decision to donate $100 million dollars (half went to Stanford University hospitals the other half went to Product Red) is a great place to start Apple’s new philanthropic chapter. Cook is putting his own stamp on the Apple brand, a difficult task to achieve following in the footsteps of the late iconic CEO, Steve Jobs.

While the donation is less than those made by leading corporate philanthropists, such as Walmart, Chevron, Berkshire Hathaway, and Exxon Mobil, it is an important step toward a more charitable culture at Apple. This speaks volumes about the shift in culture Cook is attempting to implement; to not only pave a new path for the company as it relates to social responsibility, but to set him apart from his predecessor. An article from the New York Post writes of Cook’s new initiative, “Last September, the CEO launched a widely reported employee charity program by Apple—promising to match Apple workers’ donations up to $10,000.” This points not only to Cook’s efforts to instill a charitable initiative into Apple’s corporate environment, but also to engage employees in the initiative on an individual level. Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said of Apple’s new program, “You see a real difference under Tim Cook…He has talked more openly about charitable giving by Apple. It sounds like a changed attitude.”

Achieving the right balance between a company’s brand and its corporate giving is a delicate balancing act. In this case, Cook is spearheading a commitment to philanthropy in an effort to alter Apple’s reputation as being “stingy.” By establishing a commitment to CSR, Cook is creating a “halo effect” over the Apple brand — truly doing well by doing good. And he is smart to have focused on engaging employees in the charity drive program from the beginning. Keeping employees informed and involved is key to successfully integrating philanthropic efforts with corporate brand building, especially since employees often represent the most powerful brand communications channel available. What they say about their company and its offerings—whether in a sales call, on a blog, or in a casual conversation with a reporter—can often have more impact on a company’s brand equity than an advertising campaign. The same applies to how they communicate with others about their company’s CSR activities. If they understand them, endorse them and—most critically—feel a part of them, they will communicate this understanding with accuracy and passion.

About the author

Seth Margolis

Seth Margolis is a Senior Strategy Director who has spearheaded branding efforts for financial services, professional services and technology companies, as well as for not-for-profit organizations.

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