October 25, 2016  |  by Carrie Straub

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a long, official-sounding name for something simple, yet noble. Essentially, it means that, as a company, you are a good citizen, actively involved in your community, environmentally conscious, and engaged in helping those around you. You donate your time, skills, and company resources to charitable causes within your community, and you care about your impact on those that support you.

As an individual person, you almost certainly understand the importance of supporting nonprofits and causes that help the less fortunate or illness-afflicted in your community. Maybe you’ve run a race that supports cancer research or donated to the Red Cross to help with disaster relief. There is likely a sense of responsibility or altruism that drives you to contribute your time, skills, or money to those causes. For many and perhaps for you, the reasons are very personal — a family member or friend’s life was impacted by an incurable disease, for example. Regardless of motivation though, there is no doubt that your investment, however small or large, is a vital contribution to the greater good, right?

Now, imagine the impact a company with five, 10, or even 1000!! employees could make in its community if it were to commit even a fraction of its resources to philanthropic efforts. But why? What’s the incentive?

Well, if potential positive community impact and good corporate citizenship aren’t enough motivation, what if I tell you…

Corporate social responsibility is good for business!

Lisa Rodman, a professional philanthropic advisor with Rodman & Associates, explains it this way:

Philanthropic efforts within your community build a positive, feel-good relationship with your customer base. When your customers see you investing in your local community, it creates positive association which in turn creates brand loyalty and the likelihood customers will refer family and friends to you.

These efforts also attract employees. Not only does positive brand association benefit you from the customer perspective, it can help you “sell” your company to prospective employees. Furthermore, a philanthropic culture helps maintain good employee morale and company pride, which in turn contributes to employee retention.

Below are three things Lisa suggests considering as you work towards incorporating social responsibility into your business.

In what form would a corporate philanthropic effort best reflect or compliment our current culture?

The best way to get started is to assess your company culture. As yourself or your team the following questions and be objective as possible when answering them.

  • What are the passions and priorities of our organization? How about those of our customers and employees?
  • What are our competitors’ strategies regarding corporate giving?
  • What are our goals or objectives?
  • What are our organizational strengths and values, and how can we leverage them?

What challenges might we face? What are the solutions?

As with any initiative, it’s important to anticipate the challenges you may encounter, and then brainstorm possible solutions. Some common challenges may include:

  • Buy-in from upper management, or possibly your workforce
  • Budget and human capital resource restraints — budget is probably obvious, but it’s also important to think about the manpower you’ll need to dedicate to organizing and managing your initiative
  • Determining which, of the many corporate giving strategies, best accomplishes your goal and utilizes your organization’s expertise and resources

How do we choose the charities or causes to support?

There are thousands, literally THOUSANDS of nonprofits and charities that would love your support. While it’s important to diversify, you don’t want to spread your business resources too thin or overwhelm your employees with too many options. A few strategies to narrow down your selection could include:

  • Depending on the size of your organization, take a poll of your employees’ favorite causes to gain insight, as well as help you gain buy-in and participation.
  • Write down your organization’s core strengths, values, and priorities as they relate to your corporate social responsibility initiative.
  • Eliminate nonprofits or charities that don’t align with your goals and organizational identity. Like I said just a minute ago, there are thousands of causes, but trying to give to all of them will weaken your impact.

So, that’s great information. But how do we actually get started?

If you’ve completed the exercises suggested above, you are well on your way! Next, it’s as simple as 1-2-3.

  1. Pick a start date for your initiative.

    A new calendar or fiscal year is a great starting point. It’ll feel like a fresh start after wrapping up the previous year’s tasks and priorities.

  2. Determine your initial campaign(s) and set realistic, attainable goals.

    Be careful not to bite off more than you can chew when you first get started. Remember, a combination of small efforts makes a large impact. Try one or two of the following to begin:

    • Paid time off for volunteering

      — As part of your organization’s benefits package, include 1-2 days of paid time off that each employee can use to support a cause that’s important to them.

    • Company-sponsored team volunteer days

      — Set up an afternoon that your team can volunteer at a food bank or animal shelter together. If you have a large organization, let individual departments schedule an activity that they care about.

    • Place recycle bins around the office and breakroom

      — An internal commitment to being environmentally conscious will help set the tone for larger initiatives.

    • “Casual Fridays”

      — Allow team members to dress casually on Fridays if they donate $5 to a predetermined charity.

  3. Designate social responsibility manager(s).

    As we covered previously, the success of your initiative hinges on dedicating the appropriate manpower and budget to your campaign.

It really is that simple to get the ball rolling. However, if you’re still feeling a bit overwhelmed or directionless, we’d love to help you develop and start a customized corporate social responsibility initiative. Drop us a line!

Interested in more from our trusted partner Lisa Rodman? Read her Playbook for Effective Corporate Giving!