Social good meets business strategy: Putting your signature on CSR

Social good meets business strategy: Putting your signature on CSR

corporate signature, corporate social responsibility
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Companies are increasingly seeking ways to tailor CSR to their business strategies.

This article is part one of a three-part blog series on developing, communicating and measuring effective corporate social responsibility programs.

After eight months of trying, I finally sold my house. In real estate, it is often said that the three most important factors are location, location, location.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) professionals should take note of that mantra; the three most important factors for developing a successful CSR program are focus, focus, focus.

Evolving toward signature initiatives

A few key financial and organizational dynamics — like pressure from shareholders and consumers for public reporting and a growing desire for business to define its ROI on every dollar spent — are changing CSR. This makes it more important for companies to differentiate their CSR initiatives

Companies are giving out fewer — but usually larger — donations. They are working with a smaller number of non-profit partners, but in more strategic ways.

A growing number of businesses are also reporting on the social impact of their programs.

According to the Conference Board, 76 percent of companies are measuring their societal impact, but only 18 percent of those have been doing so for five or more years, signifying an incredibly fast pace of change.

A couple of years ago, I observed that companies were starting to look at developing “signature initiatives” as a way to focus resources and drive societal and business impact.

That trend was confirmed in a survey this year by Corporate Citizenship and published by the Conference Board. While only 12 percent of companies describe their current approach as a “flagship program” with a specific and consistent issue focus, 70 percent say that they expect to adopt this approach within the next two years.

Signature CSR initiatives allow a company to better align limited resources to drive greater community, social or environmental impact. As a result, a greater return is generated for the business.

This focus on societal and business impact improves storytelling. In turn, compelling stories better resonate with a company’s most important internal and external stakeholders, including boards of directors and shareholders, employees, customers and regulators.

How to develop a signature initiative

The first step is to think more broadly about the vast company resources at hand. All companies have more than just money to bring to bear.

Start by identifying the four “P’s” — philanthropy, people, product and partnerships:

CSR signature strategy

Ideally, a signature initiative will represent a significant investment of all four resources.

In addition, it should be a long-term commitment, with a specific issue focus that is meaningful to employees, measurable and intuitively aligned to business strategy.

Syncing with strategy

There are several ways companies connect their signature CSR programs to their business strategies.

For example, Cisco’s Networking Academy uses Cisco’s products and services to boost IT skills and career training opportunities for people and organizations around the globe. AT&T’s It Can Wait puts a different spin on aligning a cause to a company’s core products.

While Cisco trains and certifies people on its products to help build the workforce, It Can Wait — a campaign to stop texting and driving — implores people to use its products safely with its mantra, “no text is worth a life.”

Companies such as chocolate manufacturers and coffee retailers, with supply chain needs in developing countries, have growing interest in serving communities where their products are sourced.

This includes providing community education and training, minimalizing their environmental footprint and other responsible sourcing supports and initiatives. 

As conscious consumers grow more aware of responsible sourcing and growth continues in consumer demand for responsibly sourced products, this trend likely will continue.

The bottom line is this: Being a good corporate citizen is no longer defined by how much money a company gives. It’s defined by what a company does and the impact it has on society and the business bottom line. 

Stay tuned for parts two and three of this series, which will cover communicating and measuring signature CSR initiatives.