3 Critical Pillars to Building a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

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The critical roles of clients, people and community in building out a successful CSR strategy.

The current global pandemic and its effects on the global economy has accelerated the importance of corporations acting responsibly. The bright side is that by operating with a corporate social responsibility (CSR) code, you can help your top and bottom lines as well.

Jessica Hawthorne-Castro

Three out of four consumers — millennials in particular — are more likely to purchase from brands or do business with companies that are socially responsible. This applies both to brand and employer selection where 81% of millennials expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. That’s probably why businesses of all sizes across industries spend billions of dollars annually on CSR activities, ranging from eco-friendly office practices to charitable giving to volunteering.

A critical success factor in the current economy, CSR is about putting people and the planet first by operating in an economically, socially and environmentally sustainable manner. It represents a tremendous opportunity for businesses to build trust, bolster their reputations, and give back to their communities.

CSR helps companies align themselves with these core consumer values by giving back and finding solutions to everyday problems. Here are three pillars that must be factored into all successful CSR strategies:

Clients
Clients and consumers want to be associated with businesses that are doing good and have good reputations. Implementing CSR initiatives can help brands that are highly competitive on price, quality and convenience. Embracing socially responsible policies helps companies burnish their images and cultivate positive brand recognition by demonstrating compassion and trustworthiness — both of which help attract and retain clients.

By building client loyalty, CSR helps companies achieve increased profitability and long-term financial success. For example, a marketing and advertising agency may choose to work with both nonprofit and for-profit businesses. Creating a compelling campaign for a children’s hospital or a conservation nonprofit shows that the agency is committed to giving back; clients will want to be associated with that goodwill. Charitable giving is another way to display a commitment to CSR. During the holiday season, for instance, businesses can donate on their clients’ behalf. This both supports meaningful causes and shows clients that you care.

People
Making CSR a priority creates a positive work environment that inspires and unites employees. It supports recruitment, retention and employee satisfaction. Good CSR also attracts employees who are eager to make a difference in the world. It helps companies recruit top-tier talent looking for jobs that have meaning and impact.

Social responsibility empowers employees to leverage corporate resources for good; those collective employee efforts can be powerful (i.e. in terms of both improved workplace morale and higher productivity). When workers have a sense of pride in the company they work for, they’re better engaged, committed and likely to stick around.

Ultimately the most successful CSR strategies are baked into a company’s DNA. ”
— Jessica Hawthorne-Castro, CEO of Hawthorne Advertising

CSR starts at home. In other words, a company that makes large donations to charitable organizations, but doesn’t pay its own workers a fair wage or provide equal access opportunities, is not living up to certain values. Avoid this problem by creating flexible work schedules and remote work policies (the latter of which has become imperative due to the global pandemic). Focus on instituting a corporate culture that promotes work-life balance and employee well-being. This is particularly important during times of uncertainty when mental health requires additional attention and care. These may not seem CSR-related on the surface, but they are critical to making opportunities more accessible to a wider swath of people.

Community
Businesses have a role to play in making local communities and the planet a cleaner place to live. Companies should be passionate about protecting the earth by applying green thinking to every decision they make. Regardless of size, all companies can have a positive impact on the environment by implementing green practices and procedures designed to address climate change.

The opportunities to “go green” are endless, and include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Recycling programs
  • Purchasing environmentally preferable office products
  • Water filtration systems that reduce reliance on plastic water bottles
  • Equipment that automatically switches to energy-saver mode
  • Employee tree-planting days
  • Bonuses for green methods of commuting to work (i.e. bicycling or using public transportation)

Building your corporate social responsibility strategy
Using these three pillars as a foundation, companies can build out their CSR strategies by first identifying their strengths. Ask questions such as: What are you good at? What do clients, potential hires and the broader business community look to your company for? What do you have that no other company does? What can you offer that’s unique?

Next, consider what your clients and customers value. Are there particular issues they care about? Once you’ve identified those issues, how can your company support them? If gender equality is a core area of interest, donate to charitable organizations that are passionate about that. Ensure the gender balance of the workplace is equitable, and that there are programs in place to support more women leaders.

When crafting your CSR strategy, be sure to involve employees. Find out what they care about and how they want to spend their time and resources. As one goal of CSR is to engage employees in collective action, their opinions carry a lot of weight.

Finally, effective CSR programs capture analytics and measurements to gauge their success. Make sure you are designing programs to have an impact, and that aren’t “just for show.” Employees and clients alike will appreciate knowing the outcomes.

Making a difference in the world
Ultimately the most successful CSR strategies are baked into a company’s DNA. Done right, CSR helps to build brand recognition and customer loyalty; saves money by reducing global footprints; attracts positive media attention; helps with top talent recruitment; and improves employee satisfaction and morale. But most importantly, companies that practice CSR can make a real difference in the world.

 

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