In the past few weeks, the news cycle has devoted more attention to the issue of domestic violence than it probably has in the past five years combined. Sadly this comes on the heels of the release of the Ray Rice video and subsequent crisis-oriented actions of the National Football League (NFL) to address domestic violence.
While this may be the issue du jour for the NFL, it isn't for millions of Americans -- mostly women -- who have been affected by domestic violence, or the hundreds of nonprofit organizations who have been working to address it for decades. What concerns the American public here is the lack of preventive action taken by the NFL. After all, the NFL has known that football -- a sport that is objectively violent in nature -- has an issue with players hitting people off the field as well as on.
Today, the NFL remains in full damage control mode -- reaching out to these domestic violence groups, generously giving to hot lines and public education campaigns -- even hiring one of the key staff members who helped write the landmark Violence Against Women Act. For many it's "too little, too late."
NFL moms and football fans across the country would have been more likely to see the NFL's concern about domestic violence as sincere if they had heard them talking about this issue in the years leading up to the Ray Rice incident. Given the violent nature of the game, the NFL should have had enough self-awareness to realize that domestic violence could be an endemic problem.
It should have started to engage with organizations working to address this issue and walked the halls of Capitol Hill to help shape the Violence Against Women Act. If they had, many female football fans could have been vocally defending the NFL these past few weeks instead of deciding whether they were betraying their gender by watching a game.
Similarly, actions by the NFL to shape policy in the halls of Congress would have built them solid relationships that in this moment could have been allies as opposed to adversaries as proposals to strip the NFL of their tax exempt status are considered.
The NFL is not alone, however, in this reactionary approach to crisis management. The reality is most large organizations won't see or address fundamental cultural issues until they're staring them in the face in the form of a threatening press story or an expensive lawsuit.
The post-disaster outreach almost always comes across as disingenuous, and the clean-up effort becomes equally as damaging as the original offense. Even worse, organizations who agree to join forces or help with disaster control run the risk of tarnishing their own reputations by association.
When it comes to crisis management, my grandmother was right -- an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Major businesses -- the NFL, Wall Street investment banks, multinational corporations, technology giants -- need to proactively build bridges and relationships with nonprofits BEFORE disaster strikes.
By forming these relationships in advance, large organizations demonstrate sincere interest in issues they are likely to encounter in the future, or in the best case scenario, are able to avoid them altogether by learning and adjusting their culture well before a crisis is upon them. We're also more likely to feel good about buying and using their products and services.
Corporate social responsibility is not a new idea. Unfortunately, how it has been institutionalized at many businesses as less than ideal. Relegated to a company's marketing division, corporate social responsibility often results in a fluffy PR campaign that is quickly forgotten or stuck in a stale section of the company's website.
Today's smartest CEOs should understand that they need to move corporate social responsibility out of marketing and into risk management where they can create partnerships in prevention and do it in the public domain using tangible public policy strategies. They should know that the time to establish relationships with transformative social issue groups is now, before disaster strikes. They are already asking themselves the questions, "What are the major social risks in my business?" and "Who are the partners I need to help mitigate that risk substantively and publicly?" and "What's the public policy goal we can partner around?"
Take Facebook for example. Every day, tens of thousands of children and teens experience some form of cyberbullying or cyber aggression. In a recent study commissioned by the National Crime Prevention Center, 43 percent of teens reported that they had experienced cyberbullying in the last year. The prevalence of cyberbullying is expected to only get worse as more and more young people gain access to new, affordable technology.
If Facebook were to start today and convene a diverse group of stakeholders from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors to combat the alarming increase of bullying incidents, they would set the stage for real change. This kind of coalition building would bring greater attention to the issue and open the door to creating policies that would stem the tide of this dangerous and too often deadly behavior. They would be forming partnerships with trusted organizations and experts who would be genuinely able to defend them at a time of crisis. In the end, people would give Facebook credit for tackling this issue now -- not in six months or a year after the next major tragedy occurs.
The bottom line is that preventative relationships save post-crisis dollars and simultaneously build community capital. By forming relationships preemptively with nonprofits, businesses not only demonstrate self-awareness and a desire to connect with the community, they also save time and money by avoiding tomorrow's impending crisis.
If companies take the time now to build bridges, make investments and understand how nonprofit organizations connect, everyone will end up better off down the road. Solving problems and building partnerships is easier and cheaper than managing a crisis, just ask Roger Goodell.