And Now a Word From Our Sponsors: How Brands Can Reinvent Philanthropy

From private concerts to hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, the TV networks pulled out all the stops at this year's Upfronts, where they presented their programming for the upcoming fall season.

When one considers the ad dollars at stake, the networks' efforts make sense. Writes The New York Times, "The goal this year: Attract what could amount to more than $9 billion in advance ad sales."

Think about it: This fall, millions of viewers nationwide will have access to a full lineup of programming, dramas and comedies featuring some of entertainment's biggest stars. The cost of "admission" for the viewing public? Absolutely nothing. Why? Because the experience is paid for by the advertising budgets of leading brands.

It's a tried-and-true advertising model, and it begs an interesting question: If brands can underwrite our entertainment experience, allowing us to enjoy our favorite shows for free, couldn't they also fund our philanthropic experience, making it possible for millions of Americans to experience the profound sense of purpose and gratification that comes from giving back?

It's true that many corporations already support worthy causes through foundations, with some companies like Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Coca Cola setting up corporate foundations that give millions to charity. I'm proposing a different paradigm in which brands can leverage their ad and marketing budgets -- money that will be spent anyway -- to achieve a new, triple-positive: connecting with consumers in new and more meaningful ways; expanding the privilege of philanthropy to millions; and bringing a new source of revenue to the country's most effective nonprofit organizations. Who benefits? Advertisers, consumers, and the underserved. It's truly a win-win-win, and it comes at no additional cost to brands.

A New Way for Brands to Connect

Brands today must compete for consumers' attention on a multitude of platforms and media, even during those tiny "micro-moments" when consumers engage with their mobile devices for quick shots of information or interaction. And more and more, consumers -- especially younger ones -- expect a brand to do something meaningful in exchange for their attention. Here are some key statistics:

  • 59 percent of millennial customers said a company's ethics and practices are important factors in their decision about which brand to buy.

  • Some 81 percent of millennials said they expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.
  • A recent survey found that 64 percent of CEOs say that corporate social responsibility is core to their business.
  • A New Way to Give Back

    Meanwhile, many Americans are struggling financially. In fact, a recent poll found that two-thirds of those surveyed would have difficulty coming up with the money to cover an unexpected $1,000 expense. Even among the country's wealthiest 20 percent -- those households making $100,000 a year or more -- 38 percent say that finding that extra thousand dollars would be challenging.

    In the past, financial struggles would have precluded one's ability to be philanthropic. But if brands sponsor charitable giving, consumers can participate through their empathy and engagement, rather than their pocketbooks. One example: Through their social media messaging, consumers can lend their support to a social cause; for every "like" or share, a brand directs a monetary donation to a selected nonprofit.

    A New Paradigm for Philanthropy

    As social responsibility becomes an increasingly important part of the conversation between corporations and consumers, brands have the opportunity to re-imagine their advertising models.

    Just as every fall brands bring viewers a new lineup of TV entertainment, they can also bring consumers the ability to make a difference. This new approach will create a critical source of new funding for nonprofits; give millions of people their first opportunity to give back; and establish, for brands, a deeper and richer connection with consumers, one founded on the shared value of making a positive difference.