In this wholly wired world, there's a new maxim: Consumers want to do business with companies that do good - whether that goodness involves the environment, the less fortunate, local communities, conditions in overseas factories or all of the above.
So Target Stores Inc., which has been involved in local and large-scale giving for some 65 years and whose philanthropic slogan is "Here For Good," ought to be well-positioned in the realm of corporate responsibility.
From providing gift cards to helping poor kids prepare for Back-to-School to raising funds to help restore the Washington Monument to donating $150,000 last month to aid tornado and flooding victims in Missouri, Target is a high-profile giver.
Last summer, leading into the fall election cycle, Target's Political Action Committee donated to another PAC that ran ads in support of an ultimately unsuccessful candidate in the Minnesota gubernatorial race who staked a strong pro-business stance ... but also happened to support a gay marriage ban.
Now, Target has earned strong marks among the gay rights community for its domestic partner benefits policy as well as its support of gay and lesbian events in its home state.
The PAC donation did not go down well. After arguing it was made to further Target's business interests and had nothing to do with social flash points, Target re-examined and revamped its PAC policies, pledging to be more scrupulous in the future.
Flash forward to the retailer's shareholder meeting earlier this month. The Q&A began, and one after another a series of very polite people asked ceo Gregg Steinhafel what on earth the company was thinking, would it make the same donation if it had it to do over and whether the company felt the need to apologize.
Steinhafel reiterated that the policy had been updated and posted on the company's website for all to review. Finally, exasperated, he asked: "Does anybody have a question related to our business not having to do with giving?"
For the most part, no. The questions kept coming. What about celebrity endorsements - does Target vet the political issues its endorsers are involved in? What about that local Minnesota Chamber of Commerce unit that is lobbying for less transparency in corporate political donation, citing the blowback in the Target case?
It was a fairly extraordinary Q&A session for a retailer shareholder meeting. It was also a reminder that in an open source world, consumers can research more than just the attributes of the products they're buying. And they are.