We see corporate social responsibility (CSR) everywhere. We see food giants sponsoring marathons, tech companies that make their software open-source, banks that offer scholarships and manufacturing firms that donate to green causes.
There’s no one-size-fits-all model of corporate social responsibility. Any action that a company takes to give back to society can fall under the CSR umbrella. Harvard Business Review identified four main motivations (subscription required) for companies to create a CSR program: moral obligation, sustainability, license to operate and reputation.
In today’s climate, while moral obligation may still be a contributing factor, I believe companies need to engage in a corporate social responsibility strategy just to keep up. In 2018, analysis by the Governance & Accountability Institute found that 86% of companies in the S&P 500 Index published a sustainability or corporate responsibility report.
If you don’t already have a CSR strategy, you should get started on building one.
CSR Benefits All
First of all, you don’t need to be a Fortune 500 company to start giving back to society and benefiting from the marketing and branding boons a good CSR strategy can provide. McKinsey’s research has shown that companies both big and small are well-served by a thoughtful CSR strategy.
Benefits for companies and organizations engaging in CSR fall into two camps: 1) direct, such as increased sales, and 2) indirect, such as name recognition, increased goodwill and risk avoidance. Both types of benefits are worth pursuing.
I’ve launched many startups in previous roles and have developed CSR programs for a wide range of organizations. In 2017, I did so for CanCon, an organization focused on representing Canadian content creators. We figured out what was important to the creators, our key demographic: events to showcase their art and talents. We provided media relations for the events, and in exchange, we got to connect with the performers involved. Everyone involved benefitted, and we continued our grassroots-level involvement in community events as the organization grew.
How To Build A CSR Strategy
The basic approach is simple: Figure out what you do best. Listen to your customers or clients. Engage your team. Measure and publish results. Let’s get started:
• Identify your company’s strengths. Any time you build a team or set a goal, you need to make sure you have the needed resources to support that team or achieve that goal, right? Your company may have a rock-solid logistics background, or a great communication team, or creative and clever engineering resources. Figure out what strengths you can lean on as you build out this new part of your organization.
• Know what your customers or clients value. And if you don’t know, ask them. Since a major goal of CSR is to improve your company’s reputation with your audience, investing in things that your audience doesn’t care about is like shooting yourself in the foot. Figure out what issues matter to them — such as education, the environment, or health and wellness — and develop in that particular area.
• Engage your employees. A CSR strategy will only succeed if the people executing it on a day-to-day basis believe in it, too; a bunch of corporate jargon will only get you so far. Draft mid- and low-level employees to your internal CSR engagement team, and tap into their ideas, enthusiasm and feedback to build a sound strategy. They’ll then go out and engage the rest of your team.
• Get started, and get measuring. Whatever you’ve decided to focus on, set up metrics that will let you know just how well you’re doing, and incorporate the results into communications like annual reports, press conferences or your website’s “about us” section. Make sure the framework you use for metrics captures the various parts of a CSR strategy, from employee buy-in and satisfaction levels to community impact to reputation contributions.
Go Forth And Seek CSR
As you build your CSR strategy, keep the above four guiding principles in mind. It doesn’t matter the size of your team, the amount of money you have to work with or the industry you’re in. Find the corporate social responsibility plan that works for you and your team; execute it, and enjoy the benefits.
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