I have long believed that true altruism is a rare event in our lives – something that the human condition is not well suited for. For example, I believe that a great deal of charity occurs as much because it makes the donor feel good about themselves as much as the recipient benefits from the charity given. This also explains why a large proportion of aid and nonprofit activity is ineffective – there is often an ulterior motive that distorts the intended outcome (e.g., Strategic CSR – TOMS Shoes). The article in the url below summarizes some research to support this position:
"Those shopping for socially responsible gifts this holiday season, be forewarned: A recent study suggests they have the potential to disappoint. The reason, succinctly put: A fair-trade fruitcake is still just a fruitcake. In fact, socially responsible gifts are appreciated much more by the givers than the receivers."
Such gifts were classified by the researchers as gifts that were intended in some way to support a social cause:
"Socially responsible gifts include a range of things, such as charitable donations in the gift recipient's name, or so-called fair-trade products, such as a box of chocolates that directly benefits the cocoa farmers in some way that is better than what happens with other candies. The idea is to make someone feel good with a gift that supports a worthy cause on his or her behalf. Unfortunately, according to the study, it doesn't often work out that way."
The researchers also found that a "socially responsible gift" was more likely to be given the less close a person was to the giver. In other words, socially responsible gifts were more likely to be given to "acquaintances," while "friends" received more traditional gifts. The reason offered was that the givers were trying to frame the way they were received by the recipient:
"The study … also found there was a tendency, when the two people didn't know each other well, to want to give something that showed how much the giver cared about social issues, like fair-trade coffee."
There are all kinds of rituals surrounding the giving of gifts – especially the more formal the context becomes (e.g., business colleagues as opposed to family and friends). And I don't particularly think it matters if gift-giving is motivated as much (if not more) by personal gain than by its intended effect. The danger comes, I think, when the giver ends up doing more harm than good, especially when the intention was to help. The post about the counter-productive effects of TOMS Shoes (linked above) explores this issue in more detail. For a similar analysis in video form, see:
David Chandler & Bill Werther
Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Stakeholders, Globalization, and Sustainable Value Creation (3e)
Instructor Teaching and Student Study Site: http://www.sagepub.com/chandler3e/
Strategic CSR Simulation: http://www.strategiccsrsim.com/
The library of CSR Newsletters are archived at: http://strategiccsr-sage.blogspot.com/
Socially Responsible Gifts Are Great – Primarily for the Giver
By Simon Constable
December 14, 2015
The Wall Street Journal
Late Edition – Final