Jim Joseph
Global Chief Executive Officer
Citizen Relations

“Try not to get fatigued with all the humanitarian demands, no matter how many disasters we face.”

“Donate cash not goods – relief organizations can more easily and effectively deploy their own goods with your cash support.”

“Keep your fellow citizens in your thoughts and prayers, but also in your philanthropy.”

“We must do more. Humanity is hurting.”

The comments above were seen over social media feeds just over the past few weeks. They were echoed, shared, and liked with great fervor, and the resulting support – at least conceptually – has been amazingly pervasive. Yet it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the thought that our collective humanity might not be making enough of a difference. What more can we do to help?

When society is besieged with so many successive devastating disasters, how are we as citizens supposed to respond most effectively? While we keep on caring over and over and over again, how can we continually make a difference each and every time?

This isn’t just for us as individual citizens, as “humans” so to speak. This existential question is equally and fairly posed to corporations, businesses, and organizations…it’s posed to brands of all kinds.

What is the role of a corporation or a brand in times of disaster?

Corporate and brand activation in times of need helps immensely multiply any individual support and helps to drive to even greater results. As one individual there is only so much any of us can do, but as organizations, collectively and together, the results can be more immediately impactful.

Brands can absolutely help us reduce that feeling of being overwhelmed by it all. And brands can help us instantly feel like we are not only doing more, but doing all that we can.

My friend Afdel Aziz writes about this in his book Good is the New Cool. Millennials now expect corporations to do more good for society than governments, believe it or not. Millennials acknowledge that corporations have the resources to put to good use, while governments are “governed” by bureaucracy that can get in the way of doing good. If we join in their efforts, then all’s good. Truly.

I’ll buy that.

In the past several years, nearly every serious organization has embraced the notion of putting purpose into their mission. Or as Afdel says, putting “good” into their brand. What started out as just words on a paper mission statement has become a way of being for the more progressive organizations. While it’s happening every day in many cases, it becomes much clearer in times of tragedy. Thankfully.

What might be a more passive purpose suddenly becomes very purposeful action at just the right time. These days, the time is over and over again.

Having a purpose without a plan for action is tantamount to having shared values that never go beyond a poster on a wall. Purpose with action means going beyond those words on a page. Then involving employees and consumers makes it all even more actionable.

Some corporations and brands are getting this absolutely right. They are stepping up and sharing their profits and their resources with their communities in need.

A large number of brands received recognition for their response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. I won’t name them here so to not leave any out but virtually every consumer category and industry covered the territory. These brands and organizations sent products, solicited contributions from their customers, and also layered on major cash donations. Some sent their employees in to help. We saw diapers, water, blankets, soaps, and clothing arrive in truck loads to communities in need, with people helping to unload and distribute them.

They didn’t do it for the recognition. They did it to be an active part of the community, and to share in the burden of helping and rebuilding. But they deserve the recognition, if not only to help make their consumers and employees proud of the work. And I for one plan to reward them for it with my continued business. Millennials won’t have it any other way and to that I say thank you too.

Many brands have gone even further. Take a look at Airbnb who circled the wagons in affected areas, along with their hosts who were looking to do more, and redirected their locations to provide zero-cost housing as shelter from the storms. Their providers responded in droves, institutionalizing a real action to give back. Not to mention that the Airbnb brand stands for inclusion as it boldly states that anyone should feel comfortable living and visiting anywhere. Including those placed out of their homes. Bravo.

JetBlue also reversed the tide of public perception of price gouging during high-demand evacuation travel by setting $99 fares to get out of harm’s way. The other airlines responded in kind for a kinder solution. One PR disaster averted to help a real national emergency.

Anheuser Busch regularly utilizes down-time on their production lines to can fresh drinking water and stockpiles it for a rainy day. The organization was more than ready to send it in for disaster relief. A smart way to be prepared at any moment.

But it can’t come along just when a disaster hits and when the news cameras light up. Both purpose and action need to be grounding principles in any brand’s vision and mission, and they need to be operationalized in the daily function of the business as well as in any philanthropic initiatives. This is the case with many brands, but now the rest of us must do it too.

That’s when a lofty mission becomes a daily purpose that we can all get behind. We must do it all now, together.