Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been embraced by some of the world’s biggest brands, such as Google, BMW, and Chipotle. In fact, nearly all companies today incorporate CSR into their business plans in some form, whether through community engagement, charitable giving, sustainable manufacturing, or energy efficient business practices.

Recently, I attended a panel discussion hosted by the Publicity Club of New England Master’s Institute about the short- and long-term impact of implementing a CSR program, and how CSR can support broader brand objectives and growth goals. The discussion was led by a panel of experts from international brands, including State Street and New Balance, who shared their experiences creating and sustaining CSR programs that move the needle.

So how can you build a successful CSR program in your company? Here are a few key steps:

1) Focus Your Giving—Make sure your CSR initiatives tie back to your company mission and align with your brand identity. It can be tempting to support a wide variety of nonprofits, but it is more powerful to pick a few core focus areas in which to make a significant impact. For example, New Balance organizes its philanthropy and community programs around the idea of “Moving Forward, Giving Back”—meaning every initiative is committed to moving people and communities forward with energy. Narrowing your focus doesn’t mean that you’re limiting your options or your impact—there can actually be freedom within the framework. By creating strategic guidelines around the types of programs you will support, you can streamline your charitable giving processes and ultimately make a bigger impact in the areas you care about most.

2) Secure Leadership Buy-in—For a CSR program to be successful, support from senior leadership is essential. If members of the C-suite are active champions of CSR initiatives and inspire action from the top-down, social responsibility will eventually permeate all levels of a company. This isn’t to say that senior executives should enforce CSR or make participation mandatory; rather, they should lead by example and make social responsibility a natural part of a company’s DNA.

3) Engage Employees—Employee involvement is critical to the success of a CSR program. Make sustainability and CSR personal by connecting with employees’ personal values, passions, and interests. You can identify groups or individuals within the company who are passionate about CSR and empower them to take ownership of volunteer events or employee fundraising campaigns. CSR programs can also be a tool for employee retention and recruitment. For example, State Street has made a concerted effort to attract and retain its workforce through a global giving program that allows employees to donate their time and money to local causes of their choice.

4) Embrace Social Media—Social media is a powerful tool for communicating CSR efforts to your target audiences. It can be most effective when employees generate and share content. For example, at CSR events New Balance arms its employee ambassadors with suggested social content such as recommended tweets, Facebook posts, and hashtags to make social posting quick and easy. Social media also gives you the opportunity to amplify stories told by your community partners. By retweeting or sharing social posts from partner organizations, you reinforce partner relationships and align your brand with social causes that reflect your CSR mission.

5) Measure Your Success—Companies should validate their CSR program through quantitative and qualitative data. It is essential to back up claims with measurable metrics to avoid accusations of “greenwashing” or “socialwashing.” You can track a variety of things—hours volunteered, dollars given, products donated, energy saved—to demonstrate impact. A sustainability report or social responsibility report can be a powerful tool to tell a company’s CSR story to key stakeholders.

Have you implemented a CSR program at your company? I’d love to hear your tips for success in the comments below.

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