“Shouldn’t we say something?” is a weighty question many organizations (including our own) are grappling with, as George Floyd’s tragic death catalyzes widespread civic unrest.

For a handful of organizations for whom combatting social injustice and systemic racism is inherent to their missions, there is no question about how to proceed. For the rest, the path is less clear.

Standing for racial equality, justice and related social ideals is a given, or should be. It’s natural to want to take action, to stand up for what you believe is right. But good intent isn’t enough.

Turn to your brand as muse in making the decision.

Shouldn’t we say something? Anything you say must be integral to your culture, values and purpose. Otherwise, it may come off as seeming expedient, self-indulgent, even pious — and thus more likely to inspire cynicism and ire.

Simply put, better make sure that you have walked the walk before you talk the talk.

Begin with self-reflection.

Assess what your organization has done, directly or indirectly, to address broader societal problems relevant to the current civil unrest.

  • Are your hiring policies explicit about recruiting and retaining workers of color?
  • Does your company do targeted outreach to economically disadvantaged communities with volunteering, charitable giving or other forms of philanthropy?
  • Have you formed a partnership with a non-profit agency on innovative ways to deliver economic and social opportunities in distressed neighborhoods or to struggling families?

If there is something tangible to validate cultural adherence to social ideals, you’re on pretty solid ground to make a public statement. Otherwise, stand down and do some internal work first before saying anything externally.

Make public statements using this brand filter.

There are many, many examples where organizations have chosen to make public statements using this brand filter. Anne Wojciki, CEO of 23 and me, eloquently tied the issues of systemic racism and injustice to her company’s genetics testing services: “Our company is based on the foundation that all of us are linked by a shared thread – DNA – that we are genetically 99.5% the same. We share so much in common, yet black and brown skin means you will disproportionately experience injustices and prejudice that can put lives on completely different trajectories…”

With public protests raging on the street outside its main center city branch, the leaders of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg public library system cited the vital societal role of “21st century libraries (that) stand up for equity, access, inclusion, diversity and democracy.” Continuing on to say, “We believe in providing equal access to the resources required to help anyone and everyone ascend to the best version of themselves. We are dedicated to freedom of expression in all its forms, whether printed in a book, spoken in library venues or chanted by friends, family or community members in the streets outside our libraries…”

These organizations formulated messages that were integral to who they are, the value they deliver and the relationship they have with their core constituents. Their statements had resonance and meaning precisely because they were true to their respective brands.

Shouldn’t we say something? With this, as with so many other challenges and opportunities, understanding your brand can help your organization make the right decision.