STUDY: ‘Conscientious Consumption’ on the Rise While Donations Decline

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Two recent and seemingly contradictory studies paint a complicated picture of the corporate CSR and non-profit sectors.

First comes Havas PR’s report on conscientious consumers, titled “BeCause It Matters.

The agency surveyed more than 6,600 Americans for the project. Its basic conclusion holds that the public — and especially young people — are more concerned than ever before about the ethics and CSR initiatives of the companies whose products they buy. Another unrelated study, however, complicates the picture on the philanthropy side by showing us that traditional sources of donations for non-profit organizations are giving less than they have in the past.

Some findings from the Havas study:

  • Women were far more likely to be receptive to sustainability messages than men (62 percent of men were classified as “rejecters” while they only constituted 44 percent of the sample)
  • Older participants and those without dependents were more likely to show interest in such messages

While general trends show increases in “conscientious” buying, a large portion of participants still don’t seem to care enough to do basic research:

  • 33 percent had not looked for information on the “behavior” of the companies whose products they buy over the past year
  • 27 percent had done so only “rarely”
  • Only 10 percent said they “often” perform such research, while the number claiming that they “always” do so was a low 3 percent

Yet consumers are, on the whole, receptive to related messaging efforts: 34 percent say they “sometimes” consider social responsibility before making purchases, the highest number for any answer (25 percent said “never”).

Here’s the most important finding, though: the number of consumers who said they “actively buy form brands with a reputation for behaving responsibly and sustainably” was far larger than the number who said they never make such considerations. The same trend held when researchers asked whether consumers are more likely to recommend such “responsible” brands to family and friends.

And they want to do so more often moving forward. Below is a graph showing how many of the consumers surveyed in the project want to be more ethically conscious in the future:

Havas graph

Finally, a full 59 percent of participants agreed that they’re more loyal to these “responsible brands” while only 12 percent disagreed “strongly” or “somewhat” with that statement.

Now for the contradictory report: a survey released by The Chronicle of Philanthropy this week found that Americans in the highest income tiers gave less money to charity both on the whole and as a percentage of their net worth in 2012 than in prior years.

  • The drop in donations from 2006 to 2012 among those making more than $200K was 5 percent

While the Chronicle’s directors attribute much of this drop to the recession, the survey’s results ran in the opposite direction for those with less personal wealth.

  • Americans making less than $100K gave 5 percent more to charities during the same time period
  • Among those in the “under $25K” bracket, donations rose by 17 percent

Researchers attribute these trends to greater empathy among those hit hardest by the downturn and insecurity among those with higher net worths. A greater sense of religiosity among low and middle-income Americans also played a role. As mentioned above, however, the wealthy still accounted for the vast majority of overall donations.

The basic conclusion: while consumers are growing more and more interested in spending their money on products from companies that make serious efforts on the CSR front, those on the higher side of the income scale are less likely now than in the past to donate cash directly to various causes.

What do we take from these findings?