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Do consumers care how effective CSR initiatives are?

Project Description

The University of Bath is inviting applications for the following PhD project based in the School of Management under the supervision of Dr Samuel Johnson ( and Dr Yvetta Simonyan (


Companies spend billions of pounds annually on corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Among the reasons for this spending, companies hope to invest in their reputations with consumers as trustworthy, moral enterprises. Indeed, consumers tend to think that products made by high-CSR firms are higher-quality than those from low-CSR firms (Chernev & Blair, 2015). But CSR initiatives, like all charitable contributions, vary widely in how many people they help. The most effective CSR spending can save lives, while the least effective CSR spending, though well-intentioned, may actually harm more people than it helps (MacAskill, 2015). In this research, we ask: When (if at all) do consumers care how many people are helped by CSR activities?

This project takes an experimental approach to understanding consumers’ reactions to CSR efforts. We predict that in the typical case, consumers’ judgments of firms strongly track the perceived importance of the cause and the amount of sacrifice that the firm undertakes, but may only poorly relate to the effectiveness of a CSR initiative. This idea will be tested across a range of experimental settings, including highly controlled lab conditions, judgments of real CSR initiatives, incentivized tasks, and possibly one or more field experiments.

In addition to documenting this basic phenomenon, this project seeks to understand when and why it occurs—how can we counsel companies or NGOs to promote a competitive advantage for effective giving? One possibility is that consumers would be more likely to rely on effectiveness information for firms that already have a good reputation, since such firms have less to prove in terms of making material sacrifices, but can still stand out along the secondary dimension of effectiveness. Another possibility is that people care little about CSR effectiveness when evaluating one company at a time, but are more able to account for effectiveness when multiple companies are compared side-by-side, particularly when their CSR efforts are going toward similar causes. Finally, the method of presenting effectiveness information (e.g., individuals helped, individuals helped per pound given, pounds per individual helped, etc.) may draw more or less attention to effectiveness or make this information more readily evaluable by consumers.

Our hope is that a series of empirical projects on this topic can help devise ways that companies not only can get the biggest reputational “bang” out of their CSR buck, but also help global giving to help more people.


Applicants for a studentship must have obtained, or be about to obtain, a First or Upper Second Class UK Honours degree, or the equivalent qualifications gained outside the UK, in a relevant discipline.

Formal applications should be made via the University of Bath’s online application form:

Please ensure that you quote the supervisor’s name and project title in the ‘Your research interests’ section.

More information about applying for a PhD at Bath may be found here:

Anticipated start date: 28 September 2020.

Funding Notes

Candidates applying for this project will be considered for a University studentship, which will cover UK/EU tuition fees, a training support grant of £1,000 per annum and a tax-free maintenance allowance at the UKRI Doctoral Stipend rate (£15,009 in 2019-20) for a period of up to 4 years. Limited funding opportunities for outstanding Overseas candidates may be available. Some School of Management studentships require recipients to contribute annually up to a maximum of 133 hours of seminar-based teaching and assessment in years 2, 3 and 4 of study (students will not be expected to give lectures).

How good is research at University of Bath in Business and Management Studies?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 64.90

Research output data provided by the Research Excellence Framework (REF)

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