What were the most interesting charity stunts

Feel good, charity stunts can turn CEOs into better people

Thousands of CEOs across the country will be sleeping "rough" tonight to raise money for homelessness. But is a night rough enough to really feel like you do with those who do it every night? And are CEOs who participate in the Vinnies CEO Sleepout just doing a selfish PR stunt?

It's easy to be cynical about fundraising campaigns and the sincerity of those who participate. As marketing researchers, we wanted to know what impact active campaigns like the Vinnies CEO Sleepout have on participants.

Read more: The number of homeless continues to rise until governments change their place of residence

In our study, which consisted of interviews with CEOs who participated in the sleepout in Sydney, the participants were quite affected. In fact, the impact of the sleepout extended beyond the money raised and beyond the event itself. In addition to influencing CEOs emotionally, many reported taking practical steps to change things in their company to prevent homelessness.

Our study

The annual Vinnies CEO Sleepout usually takes place on one of the coldest and longest nights of the year in many of Australia's major cities. During the fundraising campaign, business and community leaders and government officials sleep outdoors. The aim is to understand firsthand experiences of homelessness and to raise money for homelessness.

Not all participating CEOs are from the upper end of town or have access to unlimited funds. Many are owner-operators or managers of small businesses. Some have experienced homelessness themselves.

Between February and August 2017, we surveyed 22 CEOs and senior executives who had participated in the Sydney sleep loss over the years. Some were first-time visitors while others had attended since the event began in Western Sydney in 2006.

Previous studies have shown that an act of compassion requires the person performing the act to understand first and then deal with someone else's plight. Many of the participants we spoke to experienced this understanding.

One CEO shared what he'd learned from speakers' personal stories during sleepout:

Knowledge - the facts, the numbers and the realization that these are just ordinary people who have been unfortunate enough to lose a job, the whole family is falling apart, and so are mental illnesses. That changed me personally.

For other CEOs, the experience of sleeping for a night in the middle of winter is a reality check that has increased their empathy:

It rained for a year and I woke up and literally had to peel the box off my face. I thought - it would be like this every night. Freeze, rain. And not feel safe. If I had to do this day in, day out, how on earth could I get out of this downward spiral?

Read more: What is the name of "homeless"? How people view themselves and the labels we use is one thing

Major changes

All of the CEOs we interviewed had taken steps to effect change to varying degrees. Some did it at home - for example, by bringing their families together to volunteer for dining cars to feed the homeless or reaching out to a friend with depression. Another said he talked to the homeless when they'd just left before.

Other nudes were on a larger scale. Around a third of the respondents made changes in their organization. Stephen Moir, director of Moir Group, restructured his company's charitable obligations to help homeless people find jobs:

We are a recruitment company and we give our time and experience to help them (homeless men and women) find work. Everyone in our business contributes. In workshops, in the animal shelter. It is not forced. It is embedded in our organization. And we've helped more than 30 homeless people find jobs.

Peter Bader, CEO of the Apollo Joinery Group, changed his relationship with his employees.

The way I talk to employees, on disciplinary boards and the like has changed. Whatever our employees need, we give it to them.

Greg Taylor, Managing Director of Abergeldie Complex Infrastructure, switched employee support:

After the sleepout, we added an employee support program. Every employee can call this anonymous hotline and receive free support - marital stress, psychological stress, health disorders. We pay for it.

Thousands of CEOs have attended since the event began, so 22 research participants could have a small sample. However, the appropriate sample size in qualitative research is far smaller than in survey research. The number of in-depth interviews we conducted is considered sufficient to provide an understanding of the subject under study.

Read more: FactCheck Q&A: Do about 30% of the homeless have a job?

For the 2018 CEO Sleepout, 1,500 CEOs and business leaders nationwide will sleep in to raise funds for Vinnies' homeless services. This year's event has raised nearly A $ 4.3 million to date.

Research shows that CEOs are able to influence an organization's social responsibility programs. It seems that some charities can get CEOs to make changes.