People and businesses do amazing things - but why?

  • The run-up to Sport Relief 2012 has begun and, as I write this in the warmth of The Marketing Eye office on a chilly September day, comedian David Walliams is battling to swim the full length of the River Thames.

    David Walliams Thames Swim

    People do amazing things for charity - probably somewhere in the UK at this very moment, some brave soul is throwing themselves out of an aircraft or having all their hair shaved off in the name of charity. Of course, helping charities can take other forms as well - such as people giving up their precious time to do anything from helping out at a night shelter to picking up litter in a local park.

    But, why do people do it? David Walliams is certainly giving something back. He is well-known and he knows that if he swims the Thames, it will gain more column inches and media coverage for the cause than if you or I did it. It will also do his profile no end of good. He would no doubt argue that he isn't doing it for that - but I imagine his management team is busy seeing how his latest endeavour can be used to promote his upcoming work projects.

    But, why do less well known individuals, like you or I, do things for charity? It's usually because we've been affected by something we've seen or experienced. There's every chance David Walliams may encourage some us to pick up the baton for Sports Relief. On other hand, a friend or relative may have had a particular illness and you want to support a charity in that area. This is something I have personal experience of...

    My daughter Naomi died of cancer when she was four years old, nearly eight years ago. Soon after her death, I joined the local fundraising committee for Cancer Research UK. My reasons for doing this are varied. On a big scale, if I can help to raise some money which might go some way in finding some sort of breakthrough - which might just mean that less people have to suffer like Naomi in the future - then this would be fantastic! On a more personal level, the time I spend volunteering for CRUK is my ‘Naomi time' and it ensures that, as a her mother, I am doing something which is focused on her.

    Naomi lives on in what I do. I don't do it to make myself feel good - but I do feel a sense of achievement when an event I've been involved in comes together or a flag day is a success.

    Increasingly, companies are adopting a CSR (corporate and social responsibility) programme and their reasons for doing it are probably not dissimilar to when individuals support a charity.

    When ‘Miss World' used to grace our screens back in the 1970s, people would joke that the girls would always boast about how they were going to devote their time to charitable work if they won the competition, but it made people feel warm towards them.

    In the same way, it also reflects well on companies if they have a good CSR policy and are seen to be ‘giving something back'. It's something that investors and stakeholders may look for nowadays, as well as customers and their neighbours in the local community. Potential employees may also be drawn to a company which is seen in the local paper supporting a good cause.

    For companies which think more strategically about it, then CSR is a way of managing risk; building a general culture of ‘doing the right thing' may offset any potential risks. Other companies have built a whole brand around their own distinctive ethical values - such as The Body Shop and The Co-operative Group.

    Here at The Marketing Eye, community activity is firmly baked into our company ethos and we currently commit 10% of our chargeable time to it. Activities we are involved with range from supporting Hospice in the Weald with its corporate dinner to launching Young Business Minds, a business competition for year 12 students.

    Whether you are a company or an individual, you need passion, commitment and a sense of purpose to undertake any charity or community endeavour. Watching the Tweets coming from David Walliams' camp at the moment, I'd say that he has all three of these in spades.

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