Three years ago, I was job searching and serendipitously stumbled upon Bloom Communications. Having spent the majority of my career in corporate and agency PR, there was an instant draw to a boutique agency that was exclusively serving organizations making an impact in their communities. Though Bloom wasn’t hiring at the time, my intent on working for the company (along with some stalking, begging, and pleading) paid off. I have been with Bloom for more than two years and I can honestly say it’s a company that stands by its mission to serve the greater good.
But Bloom’s business model was BUILT on the principle of giving back — it has shaped our core values, how we conduct business, and the organizations with which we work — making it an authentic part of our work culture. In 2012 (the year Bloom was founded), the premise of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was innovative and out-of-the-box thinking. It was even questioned if a business designed in such a way could be successful. Bloom founder and CEO Brianna McKinney notes, “I can’t tell you how many meetings I had with people in the early days of Bloom who said this type of agency, with a focus on nonprofits and socially responsible businesses, couldn’t be done — that a company like this would never make any profit. Not only have we done it, but we’ve done really well and are growing every day.”
A Cinderella story? As much as I love the thought of glass slippers, maybe not. Recently, CSR is becoming not only a “nice-to-do,” but a requirement for businesses to remain competitive.
A recent New York Times article about BlackRock Founder and CEO, Laurence Fink, necessitating businesses BlackRocks supports to contribute to society underlines the importance of companies having a CSR strategy in place. In a draft letter obtained by New York Times, Fink wrote, “Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.”
Forbes references research from Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship (BCCCC) which shows that the number of companies directing corporate citizenship from the C-Suite has increased nearly 75 percent compared to five years ago. Additionally, Business News Daily reports, “To illustrate how critical CSR has become, a 2017 study by Cone Communications found that more than 60 percent of Americans hope businesses will drive social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation.”
The report continues, “The majority of consumers surveyed (87 percent) said they would purchase a product because a company supported an issue they care about. More importantly, a whopping 76 percent will refuse to buy from a company if they learn it supports an issue contrary to their own beliefs.”
Given CSR is becoming essential for business success, it begs the questions: How can we keep social impact strategies from becoming a trend? How do we make those strategies long-term? Obviously, there are a lot of factors that contribute to the success of CSR over time, but I believe a successful strategy starts with the following:
I have a handful of favorite quotes and one is by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who come alive.” Simply, be true to yourself — your beliefs, your passion, your vision. What gifts do you have to share with the greater good — and how can you incorporate those into business? Truly, it can begin that simply… with only a spark. Now, go start a fire!
Rome wasn’t built in a day – and neither is a CSR strategy. You don’t need grandiose plans to change the world. As a matter of fact, every kind act we do — or stance we take in support of another person or group or issue — is a contribution. Each and every time the person in front of me in the drive-thru line at Starbucks buys my coffee it absolutely makes. my. day. Like, I fall in love with them. Never underestimate the power of one good deed in spreading, thriving, and growing into something bigger. Paying it forward has big returns. Where/how can you start? Ask yourself that question, answer it, and respond with action.
Remembering your Mission
Why did you start your company — or why were you attracted to the business where you spend the majority of your waking hours (for serious, people)? Simon Sinek summarizes it well in his book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action: “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. And what you do simply proves what you believe.”
Speak with your actions, how and where you contribute your monetary gifts, and above all, how you treat the people who choose to do business with you. Your actions, and ultimately, your mission represent not only who you are personally, but as a company — and in reality, neither are far apart.
Getting Employees Onboard
Because I love quotes (in case you haven’t noticed), I’ll share one from Richard Branson: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”
This holds true from a CSR perspective — lead your employees by paving a path and showing the way. How can you encourage employees to donate their time and gifts? At Bloom, we get paid volunteer time (do you understand why I was so tenacious in landing a job at this company?) and we have team volunteer half days at places such as Central Texas Food Bank, Dress for Success, and Meals on Wheels People. We are not only encouraged to participate, we are rewarded for it. That, my friends, is a well-executed and meaningful CSR strategy.
Need help in developing a TRUE and WORKABLE CSR strategy, drop Bloom a line! Onward and upward!