More and more, companies are making long-term commitments to corporate social responsibility (CSR), with sustainability initiatives, employee volunteer efforts, corporate donations, and other social impact efforts increasing in prevalence and prominence. Consumers today expect more from brands, as do employees, making CSR a top priority in board rooms and break rooms alike.
Fortune Global 500 firms spend around $20 billion a year on CSR activities. Organizations are now evaluated not only on the quality of their products or services but also on the values they hold and how their actions reflect those values. More than 85% of U.S. consumers expect companies to act on social and environmental issues, according to a CSR study, and nearly 8 in 10 millennials, and 7 of 10 Gen Xers, consider CSR when deciding where to work, according to SCORE.
“Responsibility, humanity and impact are now more entrenched than ever in the corporate sector,” CSR expert Susan McPherson wrote in Forbes.
Your organization’s CSR initiatives, however, don’t have to be on the scale of global giants like Unilever, which spends about 1% of its pre-tax profits on community initiatives each year, in order to make an impact. You can begin with smaller, targeted actions that are tied closely to your workplace values. Here’s how to get started.
1. Get engaged, building from the personal passions of your people and your organization’s values
Chances are that your company is filled with people who are already active in your community in various ways. Survey your employees, and listen to their answers. Are there common themes that emerge in their volunteer activities that can help you narrow in on the key issues that most affect the communities in which you live, work, and play? If so, that can help guide your early CSR efforts.
2. Get focused
Once you’ve determined the causes(s) you want to support, decide how deep you want your footprint to be. Your level of involvement can vary widely, from unpacking boxes at the local food bank as a team to offering training to a nonprofit’s staff.
Many organizations lend their support, whether financial or in the form of time or paid time off, to employee’s existing volunteer activities. Still others, including 65% of the Fortune 500, offer to match employees’ monetary donations to the causes most important to them, enabling them to multiply their contributions.
Those donations add up: In 2018, for example, GE matched more than $30 million in donations from employees to a wide range of nonprofit and accredited educational institutions. In fact, one in three donors say they’d give a larger amount if their gift was matched, according to The Big-Give Research Initiative. Other organizations make monetary donations to match employee volunteer hours as well.
3. Expand your impact
You can start small, but there will probably come a day when you’ll be ready to grow your CSR efforts. We kicked off our CSR initiatives at Propeller with the Uplift program, which leverages the business acumen of our consultants to support the needs of nonprofit partner organizations. In 2017, our employees developed two additional social responsibility initiatives: Propel Her and Sustainability.
In doing so, we borrowed from the best practices we’d learned with Uplift and worked to translate them to our other efforts, which had missions and objectives that were far different. We not only built on our successes but also enabled leaders of each new initiative to carve out their own unique paths. In doing so, we established CSR efforts that complement each other without overlapping.
4. Measure and reevaluate
Set metrics for each of your CSR initiatives that make sense for that individual effort. You can look internally as well as externally to set benchmarks, and you can choose qualitative as well as quantitative ones.
• Our goals for Propel Her, which is designed to help women develop tools to thrive at work and in their communities, include expanding the number of public events we hold, to six in 2019, and using our blog to spread learnings from each of those events.
• We’ve pledged to further our sustainability initiatives, which include gift and purchasing guidelines, sustainable office supply sourcing, and more, by establishing a Propeller definition and vision of sustainability. We will also create our first annual sustainability report on our performance and hold quarterly events that bridge our firm with the greater community.
• For Uplift, we have committed to engaging more than 50% of Propeller employees in at least one volunteer project and investing 1% of employee hours in giving back to our community.
By setting metrics that are highly tailored to each of our three CSR initiatives, we can better tailor our 2019 activities toward their unique missions.
As you go, don’t forget to reevaluate. Ask yourself: How can we grow, and what can we change? Are we engaging the people we want to be engaging, and are we addressing the most urgent matters in our communities? You may find out that you start out down one path but then change course a year or two down the road as community needs shift.
Organizations don’t need a CSR officer to make a difference. By aligning your activities around a valuable social goal that the company cares about, you can gain momentum for your CSR initiatives, regardless of your footprint.
About the Author
Propeller alumna Stephanie Stano leads with a steady hand and the ability to leverage the talents and resources available. She knows how to make the most of whatever conditions are at play, whether it be the talent each member brings to a team or unpredictable elements during the regattas in which she competes. Stephanie approaches project delivery in much the same way she navigates the open water – with a dedication and focus that allow her to find new, innovative solutions to challenging problems. She holds a master’s degree in sustainability and environmental management from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Pittsburgh.