Be good. That two-word principle governs the broad concept of a thing called corporate social responsibility. Being a good corporate citizen in various ways—philanthropically, environmentally, and otherwise—is gaining traction at companies around the world. And while doing so might not necessarily have a direct impact on the bottom line, the ancillary benefits—improved customer and employee relations, an improved standing within the local community, and an overall improved company image—make acts of good corporate behavior make good sense.
The Business Dictionary defines corporate social responsibility as a company’s “responsibility toward the community and environment in which it operates.” For adventure parks, one of the easiest and most obvious ways to put corporate good citizenship into action is through special events for charitable causes. After all, parks by nature are entertainment facilities, so staging fundraising events or other philanthropic programs should be right in their strike zone. Not a whole lot of extra effort required.
In addition, parks that have come up with socially conscientious events have found that the cost is minimal and that it is even possible, in some cases, to turn a bit of a profit. Red River Gorge in Kentucky, for example, offers a two-for-one discount for Fathers Day and Mothers Day, based on the idea of bringing along, for free admission, a mother or father on their respective days.
But verifying familial ties can be challenging; is that really your mom or dad? So while the program is still promoted under a Fathers Day or Mothers Day, “anybody who books with a discount code gets it,” says Amy Meyer, Red River Gorge’s executive director. “We don’t interrogate people.”
The result, on Fathers Day, is the resort’s busiest Sunday in June. And May and June are what Meyer calls “a nice building time” toward midsummer prime time. But if there is something of a revenue uptick, even after the discounts have been factored in, the greater benefit is probably realized in community relations. “We have received a strong response from the community,” says Meyer, “because we are promoting families spending time together.”
Indeed, any park looking at a fundraising event primarily as a revenue generator is probably barking up the wrong tree. Distinguished University of California business professor David Vogel has written that “corporate social responsibility is largely irrelevant to . . . financial performance.”
More relevant are relationships with any of a company’s various so-called “stakeholders:” consumers, employees, and the local community, in particular. In many ways, this is public relations in its purest form—burnishing a public image characterized by conscience and respectability. Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, has written of what she calls “the new reality of business:” “Increasingly, shareowners, customers, partners, and employees are . . . rewarding those companies that fuel social change through business.”
Alpine Adventures in New Hampshire certainly takes that principle to heart. On certain days at Alpine Adventures, bringing an item of non-perishable food earns a park guest a discounted admissions coupon. Collected food items are donated to the Lincoln-Woodstock Food Pantry. (Alpine Adventure’s sister resort, Whale’s Tail Water Park, conducts a similar food-drive program.)
The park does it “just to give back to the community,” says Robb Barr, Alpine Adventures’ events and promotions coordinator. “We all live here, and we want the local community to know that we are more than just a business looking for a dollar. It puts us in a more positive light. A pat on the back, a high five, doing a good civil service—that’s plenty of incentive to do it.”
Barr says Alpine Adventure’s food drive represents “just a little bit of a hit.” The minimal expenses necessary to pull it off are small marketing/advertising costs, some extra employee costs (e.g., in delivery of the food to the food pantry), and conceivably some lost revenue. But because Alpine Adventures runs the food drive during its slow period in the fall, park visitors attracted by the discount might have been no-shows had the discount not been in force.
On October 2 this fall, Adirondack Extreme in upstate New York conducted its first Day It Forward event for veterans, part of the park’s overall policy of actively contributing to local charitable organizations. The concept: buy a ticket and earn free admission for a veteran on Veterans Day, November 11. The result: 75 free admissions for veterans, a generous gesture that might have been costly had the freebies displaced paying customers during a busy summer weekend. But because Veterans Day is normally a slow time, just before the park’s closing for the winter season, the lost-revenue impact was exceedingly small, at most.
Along with improved park attendance and improved community relations can come a less obvious benefit of good-guy promotions: improved employee attitudes. Studies have shown that companies that practice a high level of corporate responsibility experience less employee turnover. Presumably, it feels good to work for a company that does the right thing. That might be particularly valuable for parks that operate on a seasonal basis. Quality employees on the fence about returning after off-season furloughs might have an extra incentive to come back.
Special events or programs can also be valuable catalysts within a park’s overall marketing effort, especially through social media. Red River Gorge’s Fathers and Mothers Day promotions, says Meyer, “are a wonderful thing for a social media campaign—getting people to talk about us.”
It is a campaign that can be waged inexpensively. Meyer says a Facebook post and an e-mail blast were Red River Gorge’s principal promotional vehicles, at a near-nothing cost. “Just a little signage,” says Barr about Alpine Adventures’ food drive, “[generates]a good, warm, fuzzy feeling. It takes off on its own. Just plant a seed and water it.”
Ultimately, of course, a philanthropic event or program alone is not going to be a tipping point. Studies have shown that most consumers in their purchasing behavior are driven less by ethics than by price and product quality. But being a good citizen matters in the eyes of a park’s various stakeholders. The investment is negligible, and the return might not go straight to the bottom line, but there can be indirect impacts on overall company performance.
Better community relations, for example, can grease the slide in permitting procedures. Improved employee retention can reduce the costs of re-training to accompany improved service and, hence, a better customer experience. And guests who are attracted by special promotions and appreciate the social conscience embedded in such promotions are more likely to be return visitors.
In short, being a good citizen is simply good business. And there is an unquantifiable value in the warm fuzzies that Barr talks about. For everyone involved—park guests, employees, management, the local community—it feels good to be good.