Brands Doing Good During a Difficult Time

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[Editor's Note: One silver lining during the COVID-19 period is that some brands, organizations and individuals are attempting to offset the difficulties with acts of kindness. In the article below, originally published March 13, 2020, PRNEWS editor Seth Arenstein described and listed early examples of large brands doing good. Since that time, PRNEWS decided to add to the list periodically with additional examples of noteworthy activities from groups of all sizes. We welcome you to send us your examples. Contact: [email protected] or [email protected]. Thank you.]

It’s a new normal for the country. You can consider the health precautions—such as periodic hand washing and social distancing—and the cancellations as burdens. Yet consider the upside: The U.S. is fortunate in that it can benefit from other countries’ experiences, possibly helping to lessen the virus’s impact here.

For brands, a new baseline is also forming. What eventually becomes standard practice in CSR is uncertain, yet trends are coalescing. Some brands are stepping up, others are standing pat, at least for the moment.

Preferring to look at COVID-19 as a great opportunity for CSR, we’ve noticed a bevy of large brands doing good. These kind acts likely earn double reputation points. Doing good is welcome always. Foregoing some revenue in the face of economic uncertainty, now that should really benefit reputation.

Some companies and organizations are doing good internally, others externally. For example, Shopify is giving each of its employees a $1000 stipend to buy supplies to work from home. A church in Maryland voted to continue to pay its musicians despite cancelling worship services.

Companies and organizations acting this way "will see the long term," says Deb Gabor, CEO, Sol Marketing.  Goodwill, she adds, will extend to them "in spades."

Such actions, adds Amy Power of the Power Group, are becoming table stakes.

On the other hand, "opportunistic and uncouth" brands that are "co-opting this disaster for their benefit will find themselves in a world of hurt," Gabor says.

Below, a sampling of large companies doing good things:

More examples of doing good during COVID-19 (Begun March 17, 2020)

  • Ford launched an ad campaign to raise awareness around its program to provide assistance to customers during the virus.
  • Media pitching guru Michael Smart opened to the public one of his exclusive Inner Circle webinars. The March 18 session's topic was how to make it through an economic downturn as a PR pro. See March 19 coverage of the webinar.
  • 3BL Media is waiving fees for CSRwire releases from nonprofits relating to coronavirus.
  • MLB and the MLB Players Association donated $1 million to Feeding America and Meals on Wheels. In addition, every MLB team donated $1 million each to aid stadium workers. The Detroit Tigers was the first club to pledge $1 million.
  • Facebook pledged $100 million to 30,000 small businesses.
  • The Bloomberg Foundation pledged $40 million to fight the virus globally, mainly in Africa.
  • Uber Eats and Grubhub waived delivery fees on meals from select independent restaurants in the US and Canada. This is designed to ease financial burdens. In addition, Grubhub waived commission fees.
  • Locast, the nonprofit that streams local TV stations, will allow customers who can’t afford the voluntary donation to receive interruption-free service for 30 days. Local TV news is critical during coronavirus, Locast said. Send an email to [email protected] for details.
  • Several arts groups are presenting concerts online, including the Taipei Chinese Orchestra. The March 21 program of Taiwanese ballads was designed to assuage "public anxiety" over coronavirus, the group said. Other organizations, such as the world-renowned Metropolitan Opera, are streaming previous performances gratis.
  • Several examples of doing good from the literary world include Johns Hopkins University Press offering free access to 97 journals and 1,400 books. In addition, more than 50 authors will take part in a virtual book festival for children, May 1-2.
  • As noted above, baseball and basketball pros have stepped up significantly. Here's a terrific list of athletes who've done good during this time, courtesy of ESPN.
  • Meal kit Freshly and Nestlé will donate $500,000 to Meals on Wheels America. The donation will help continue food delivery to seniors.
  • PRSA is opening select resources to non-members, including certain webinars. In addition, it created a resources page with a variety of free assets.
  • Tito's Vodka, which sent messages urging people not to use its hand sanitizer, is donating $2 million to groups providing "assistance to those affected by the current pandemic" in the restaurant and service industries. Immediately, $1 million will go to: CORE, USBG Foundation, Southern Smoke and World Central Kitchen. An additional $1 million will go to organizations as "we uncover further needs...this is only the beginning...we will be supporting other local efforts," Tito's said on Instagram March 20. [Update: Tito's says its distilleries now will make AND donate 24 tons of sanitizer.]
  • A tweet from Apple CEO Tim Cook seemed to confirm VP Mike Pence's March 21 claim that the company is donating 2 million industrial masks to health care workers.
  • MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates sent 400 pizzas to health care workers at Allegheny General Hospital. A pair of area pizzerias converged to produce the pies. Pirates staff delivered them. Apparently, the bucs don't stop there. Pirates players plan to send coffee to firehouses.
  • Another food-related good deed: Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) joined Ben's Deli and United Way of Long Island to send food to health care staff in hospitals. Despite the program's name, Chicken Soup for Health Care Responders, it will deliver more than Jewish liquid penicillin. Ben's will deliver free its cold cut sandwiches, salads and soups (packaged to avoid contamination) to hospitals in Nassau and Suffolk counties. In self-quarantine, Rep. Israel was eating take-out from Ben’s Deli when the inspiration for the program hit him.
  • A third food-related effort: Butchershop, a San Francisco creative agency, launched, which raises funds that are sent to struggling restaurants to provide meals for healthcare professionals.
  • Prudential Financial donated a stockpile of 153,000 face masks and respirators to NJ.
  • Bacardi Limited launched #RaiseYourSpirits, an effort to help support staff of closed bars and restaurants. On March 24, Bacardi and its brands (Bacardi rum, vermouth and wines, Grey Goose vodka, Patrón  tequila, Bombay gin and Dewar's Scotch whisky) pledged $3 million to support various foundations helping hospitality workers. Last week, Patrón donated $1 million. Bacardi said this is "just the start" of its support.
  • Megan Driscoll, founder/CEO of NY PR firm EvolveMKD, is a triple threat in the best sense. Not only is she donating to a different virus-related cause each week and urging her staff to donate, she's pledged to give to staffers' preferred charities/nonprofits.
  • Twitter pledged to donate $1 one million to the Committee to Protect Journalists and the International Women’s Media Foundation. These funds will be used to ensure the organizations can continue their work despite the new economic strains.
  • Actors Jennifer Garner and Amy Adams are reading stories to home-bound children to help raise funds for Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. Donations will help the two organizations ensure children in need are fed while schools are closed.
  • Mattress maker Serta Simmons Bedding through Relief Bed International will donate 10,000 mattresses to NY-area hospitals and temporary medical facilities. In addition to shortages of masks and ventilators, NY hospitals are concerned about a looming bedding shortage as confirmed coronavirus cases rise rapidly.  Serta Simmons asked other bedding companies to join it in this effort.
  • A trio of do-good offers to for health care workers and first responders. Starbucks is offering free coffee to health care workers and other front-line workers, such as police and fire fighters, through May. Hertz is offering free car rentals to health care workers through April 30. With transport and coffee needs filled, brands turned to foot care.  The move produced a good lesson: have enough supplies on hand when you make a donation. A favorite of medical staff, Crocs promised to give away clogs. It reached its limit of 10,000 pair in days. Now it's asking medical personnel to line up virtually at noon daily on its site for a chance to receive a pair. Similarly, Allbirds said it would donate Wool Runners, another favorite of healthcare workers. In four days it donated $500,000 worth, its limit. It has since pivoted to buy one-get one free.
  • TikTok pledged $10 million to the World Health Organization to support its coronavirus efforts.
  • The NFL and the NFL Players Association said collectively they've donated some $35 million to fight coronavirus.
  • Johns Hopkins University is seeking volunteers to assemble plastic face shields for inclusion in Personal Protection Packs for healthcare workers. The fanny packs, donated by Under Armour, are used at Johns Hopkins Hospital, but Hopkins is sharing its shield-making know-how with other health care facilities. Volunteers are needed through April 10. Sign up online.
  • Starbucks said it's donating $3+ million  to various COVID-19 efforts, it said April 1. The Starbucks Foundation will contribute $1 million to the COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund in support of the World Health Organization (WHO). $1 million will go to Give2Asia to fund front-line medical workers in China. The last $1 million will go to groups including: United Way, the NYC Police Foundation, the Food Bank for NYC and Robin Hood’s COVID Response Fund, among others.
  • Comcast CEO Brian Roberts and wife Aileen donated $5 million to help Philadelphia students get laptops now that schools are closed.
  • Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and wife Dr. Priscilla Chan pledged $25 million to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to explore treatment options for the virus.
  • Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged $100 million to food banks.
  • Hilton and American Express are donating up to 1 million hotel rooms across the country to frontline medical professionals who need a place to isolate from their families.
  • Allstate and American Family Insurance said April 6 they will return about $800 million to auto insurance customers since so few people are driving. The 15 percent giveback of April and May insurance premiums to customers will come to $600 million, Allstate said. American Family will return $50 on each one of its policies, coming to $200 million. Allstate calls its give-back a Shelter-in-Place payback.
  • Celebrities giving back include Oprah ($10 million), football stars Tom Brady and Russell Wilson and his wife the singer, Ciara (donating 10 million meals each to Feeding America), Sir Elton John and Madonna ($1 million each to coronavirus efforts) and baseball star Justin Verlander and his wife, model Kate Upton (donating each of his weekly paychecks during the baseball season's shutdown).
  • Delta is donating more than 200,000 pounds of food to hospitals, community food banks and other organizations. After the airline adjusted service offerings on board and in Delta Sky Clubs, it was left with food that would have expired before it could be served to customers.
  • Ally Financial is providing some employees with a $1,200 tax-free financial assistance payment to help cover unexpected costs related to working from home.
  • Jack Dorsey is shifting $1 billion (more than 25 percent of his worth) in his Square equity to create Start Small, a fund dedicated to COVID-19 relief. The Twitter boss will post disbursements and recipients in a public spreadsheet. The focus will shift to girl’s health and education, and universal basic income, once the pandemic is past.
  • Starbucks is committing $10 million to establish the Starbucks Global Partner Emergency Relief Program, part of its effort to support employees around the world. The direct relief grants will be available to employees facing extreme hardship from coronavirus.
  • The American Hotel & Lodging Association's initiative “Hospitality for Hope” has attracted more than 15,000 hotels. It identifies hotels that are providing temporary housing for emergency and healthcare workers during the pandemic.
  • Lady Gaga raised $35 million in just one week for the World Health Organization's COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund. She also is partnering with the WHO and Global Citizen to launch a virtual festival April 18 called "One World Together at Home."
  • Aflac CEO Dan Amos and wife Kathelen donated $1 million to Piedmont Columbus Regional hospital (Columbus, GA). The matching donation will allow the hospital to create a separate COVID-19 ward.
  • NRG is donating $2 million in charitable contributions, including cash and urgently needed safety equipment.
  • Coconut water brand Vita Coco is donating $1 million in profits to Feeding America and No Kid Hungry.
  • TikTok pledged$150 million toward funding medical staffing, supplies, and hardship relief for health care workers, as well as $40 million in cash to local organizations, including artists and educators.
  • &pizza and Citi launched &pizza’s Hero Kitchens powered by Citi, part of &pizza’s Hero Pie Program. It is projected to produce 100,000 pizzas for hospital workers.
  • WW International pledged $2 million to provide 10 million meals and 3 million pounds of produce to alleviate food insecurity. In addition, the company is launching a global healthy giving challenge to encourage members to participate through an in-app rewards program. Members will be incentivized to redeem rewards for donations.
  • SNL's Michael Che is paying one month's rent for 160 residents of his late grandmother's apartment building. “It’s crazy to me that residents of public housing are still expected to pay their rent when so many New Yorkers can’t even work,” Che wrote on Instagram. His grandmother died of coronavirus.
  • Singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran donated more than one million pounds ($1.2 million) to charities near his home in Suffolk, England.
  • ThirdLove donated 1,000 bras and underwear  to healthcare workers at UCSF Respiratory Clinic, and Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. In addition, the brand is partnering with shoe company Rothy's to create PPE.
  • Louis Vuitton is producing hospital gowns for frontline workers at six Paris hospitals.
  • Gotta love Tom Moore. The retired British captain vowed to raise 1,000 pounds for Britain's National Health Service's coronavirus efforts before his 100th birthday (April 30). Moore, 99, promised to walk 100 laps around his garden. He's done the walking, says he feels great, raised more than 23 million pounds and become a national celebrity. [Update May 20: It's now Sir Captain Tom Moore. The Queen of England announced Captain Tom's knighthood today.]
  • Mila Kunis and hubby Ashton Kutcher are creating Quarantine Wine and donating all the proceeds to charities seeking to purchase PPE and feed those in need.
  • Multicultural leaders, including Andrew Yang, Phillip Lim, George Takei and more, are launching a social media campaign to demonstrate that We Are #AllAmericans. Businesses are selling #AllAmericans-inspired products whose proceeds will go toward  medical relief, combatting racism and economic stimulus.
  • BP is donating 3 million gallons of jet fuel to FedEx and Alaska Airlines to help with the distribution of PPE, Reuters reports. The donation is worth roughly $1.5 million, Reuters says. In addition, BP is providing free fuel to emergency workers in Britain, Spain and Turkey.
  • KIA Motors America is donating $1 million to several nonprofits that are helping homeless youth find shelter during the pandemic. The organizations receiving the funds include Covenant House, StandUp for Kids and Family Promise. Funding will benefit homeless youths in all 50 states, KIA said.
  • American Express established a coalition, Stand for Small, that offers business support, network connections and mentorship opportunities from companies including Facebook, Google, IBM, Microsoft, PayPal, Staples, UPS and Verizon.
  • In April, McDonald's sent millions of meals to the nation's hospitals and more than $3 million worth of food to food banks and organizations feeding the needy. It's also nice when local franchisees do good. For example, a Michigan McDonald's franchisee sent supplies and cash to food banks in Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County. In addition, Dave Cesarini, who owns several Domino’s Pizza outlets in Ann Arbor, sent hundreds of pizzas to local hospitals.
  • This is one of our favorite examples of doing good. In 1847, the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma sent $170 (worth about $5,300 today) to Ireland during the Great Potato Famine.  Noting the coronavirus's devastation of Native Americans, donors in Ireland have sent more than $2 million through a GoFundMe account for the Navajo and Hopi nations. In 2017, Ireland erected a 23-foot-high sculpture to honor the Choctaw Nation's generosity. Chief Gary Batton of the Choctaw Nation said, “We are gratified, and perhaps not at all surprised, to learn of the assistance our special friends, the Irish."
  • Protect yourself and donate. Retailer Uncommon Goods is selling children-designed cloth face masks (2 for $25) with all profits going to NYC Health + Hospitals.
  • Basketball legend Magic Johnson's insurance company is donating $100 million to the Paycheck Protection Program. The donation is aimed at helping minority- and women-owned businesses make it through the pandemic. Johnson says minority-owned businesses are being ignored.
  • We love this act of kindness since it's from a fellow journalist. Last month, Red Sox reporter Chris Cotillo turned to Twitter to auction off his baseball memorabilia with all proceeds going to COVID-19-related charities. Cotillo's activities have brought some $60,000 to good causes.