Is this Social Responsibility or Oklahoma-Washing?

Oklahoma washingFriends, I would love to hear your thoughts on this because frankly I am feeling torn.

This site is about the various ways there are to pay it forward, and many of those involve big well-known companies and their social responsibility efforts.  Typically I give the benefit of the doubt to companies and their efforts to be socially responsible and have received criticism for mentioning brands which previously had a less than stellar history of social responsibility.  I am all about social responsibility and putting our consumer dollars behind socially responsible brands.

Fortunately, statistics show that most people share those views.  Just this week another study was released stating that 90% of shoppers are likely to switch to brands that support a good cause and even more say they would be loyal to socially responsible businesses. Corporate social responsibility is no longer optional for companies, especially those of a certain size and stature.

Yet still somewhat unclear are the methods by which companies effectively and altruistically put their social responsibility dollars to use.  Since the tornadoes earlier this week, multiple press releases have gone out regarding big well-known companies and their efforts to help the people of Oklahoma.  While I am thrilled to hear that companies are helping out, a press release within 48 hours of the storm’s passing just feels icky.  It is not too soon to be helping, but may be too soon to be touting it.  It feels like walking that fine line between helping because you should and helping for the sake of publicity.

It feels like a form of Oklahoma-washing.

Washing when corporations and brands try to increase sales by associating their products with a cause, such as breast cancer (known as pinkwashing) and the environment (known as greenwashing).  In truth, brands that employ washing techniques in reality donate a negligible portion of proceeds to the cause.

Let me make this clear.  I do not believe that these companies are actually engaging in washing.  These companies have rallied around the people of Oklahoma swiftly and effectively and I fully support any and all efforts to help the people who need it.  I am, however, somewhat disturbed by the speed at which they chose to put out a press release about their actions.  Perhaps they could have waited just a bit longer before announcing their efforts to the media so the actions came off a little more sincere.

So I ask, what do you think?  Am I just being hypersensitive? What are the unspoken rules, in your opinion, for how a company should respond in a situation such as the one in Oklahoma?  Where is the line for you between social responsibility and altruism?  Is there one?

I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Responsibility, obligation, duty

Related posts: How to Make Your Small Business Socially Responsible, The Pink Ribbon Debate


  1. I love hearing about big companies helping out. If they don’t tout their responsibility we often never hear about it. I think it’s a great inspiration too and encourages others to help out as well.

  2. I understand exactly what you’re saying. It’s really confusing. It’s like when I found out that the people who call you for donations for whatever charity – how the telemarketing company is making something like 60% and the charity is only getting 40%. It really makes you wonder where you can spend your money to actually HELP for real.

  3. I dunno, I’m torn as well with this. It happened after Sandy too. Obviously I want to hear and know that big companies are using their size and manpower to help out but I hate the feel they sometimes give off like maybe they are doing it not just altruistically but to get the good press. And that feels icky.

    I don’t know what the right answer is. In terms of them “holding off” on a press release saying they are helping… it can go both ways. If they hold off, someone could also argue the opposite – why isn’t “so-and-so” company helping when they could?

    While at the end of the day, I hate the concept of the big company using a tragedy to get media attention… I try and make peace with it by letting that roll off my back for the greater end result – that the victims of the tragedy are getting much needed help and that’s the most impt…

  4. I’m sure there are many companies that help out for the wrong reason. I don’t agree with that practice. But if people who need help are benefiting from it, it’s difficult for me to condemn it completely.

  5. I am a bit torn too BUT I don’t think it is truly any different than individuals who decide to use these kinds of things as political platforms – moving quickly and trying to make/get change while emotions are running high. I think like individuals, corporations also recognize that in a week no one is going to care that they helped Oklahoma. If they get the word out quickly and now, when every one is watching it will be more recognizable and memorable. Sure some corporations are doing it for much more than the publicity but there are many more who are doing it to be seen and look good. I am that cynical. However, as long as they ARE helping people I will take it. That alone doesn’t affect my opinion of them most times – it’s how they as a company are as a whole.

  6. It is a complex issue. When large companies make donations in these tragic circumstances, they can deduct the money on tax returns as charitable donations, so they are not losing anything.

  7. I agree with you, here. But it’s such a fine line, it’s just hard to tell sometimes! I want to support a company that is giving back, but I won’t support a company I don’t like just because of it. For example, I rarely eat fast food – so I won’t all of a sudden go support them for saying they are giving back to help rebuild. I guess I am grateful that companies are wiling to give back and if I see a company I already like giving back, it makes me proud to support them.

  8. It’s a hard call, but I have to say that in times of need, I am glad that big companies do something to help out.

  9. Though I feel there is a tactful way to “tout” about something I think it is still important to remember that in the end whether a company can claim it, look good, whatever, there is still money being donated to these disasters. That is important. They need it and they need it fast. That said, I am not sure how I feel about the touting and when is too soon. I think it depends on how it is done.

  10. Companies that give back need to pride themselves on being true to who they are and not jump on the “social good” band wagon. If a company has a history of giving to the same causes or types of causes throughout the history of the company then also giving back to victims of terrible tragedies such as the Oklahoma tornadoes then I respect them more than if a company only gives to causes that are hyped by the media.

  11. I think that unless you are the Red Cross or disaster relief organization you are in no position to do something for the victims of a tragedy such as what has happened in Oklahoma. So if a large corporation announces they are making a donation to one of these organizations- great. But if they are claiming to donate a portion of sales- that makes me mad. Don’t make your good works contingent of achieving a certain sales goal first.

  12. Are they asking for the public to join them in their efforts in some way? Sometimes it takes a big voice to get the ball rolling, so there’s that as well. I don’t know what to think because there’s a part of me that thinks at least they’re doing good.

  13. It’s a fine line, for sure.

  14. Oh man, that is a tough question. I can see that getting the info out that they are helping, but it does seem like a sale booster to throw the PR info out on the table sometimes. I guess I would have to go with my gut when I was out shopping with particular brands in mind. Thank you for raising the question and giving us something to ponder.

  15. You aren’t being hypersensitive. I’ve thought about this a great deal too, but haven’t come up with an answer. The press releases turn me off, but I don’t know how to know which company is sending them out. Do you? Is there a way to find them?
    I think it’s best to look at each case individually and see how much money is actually being donated. I always research nonprofits. It’s time to research companies/brands now too.

  16. I think of it like those that help others, but HAVE to kind of rub it in your face, because they want everyone to know they did, and get recognition. But, like you said, people will take their money to companies to give. I diffidently see your point.

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