There are countless definitions of corporate social responsibility (CSR) but a common way of seeing CSR is as a company’s commitment to operating in a manner that extends beyond purely financial implications of business decisions to include the social and environmental impacts of those decisions on the community.
The current movement of company’s developing CSR programs is being driven from within organizations (by its employees and leadership) as well as outside organizations (by investors and customers) who have come to recognise that economic growth can be linked to environmental and social well-being.
Establishing a CSR program is a positive step for organisations wishing to make a difference in the community, so for those in the process of considering or establishing a CSR programme, there are a few key things to consider…
As with any business decision, setting up a CSR program starts by answering one question: why are you doing this – why are you setting up a CSR program?
- Is it to help a distinct segment of the community?
- Is it to increase shareholder value or market share?
- Is it to increase buy-in or engagement by your staff?
- Or is it some, or all, of the above?
Irrespective of your motivation, answering this question will help you establish the core ethos for the entire program, which in turn will guide you in the planning stage.
Once you understand the ‘why’, it’s now time to understand the ‘how’ and ‘what’, and the best way to do this is with some real world research by meeting with three distinct groups of people.
First, you will need to talk to the people you want your CSR program to support. Whether the target group is a socially, community or environmentally focused, it’s important to get out and meet with them to understand their need and what support they are looking for (financial, awareness / PR, volunteers etc).
Their needs may be very different to your expectations, so by meeting with them early on in the piece you have the opportunity to readjust your expectations or shift the focus of the program if needed.
Second, you will need to meet with external stakeholders (such as industry peers, suppliers and clients) to see what they are doing in this area. By getting out there and asking questions you will learn from people who have been through it. This can save you a whole heap of heartache at a later stage, plus it will also assist you in developing realistic benchmarks for your program.
Third, you will need to spend time meeting with staff at all levels of the organization to get their input on the program. Polling leaders through to front line staff, from those who are leading the project, to those active in the community, you will gain an understanding of what people expect a program to achieve. This will also help you begin getting buy-in to the overall program.
Once you know whom you want to help, what your stakeholders think, and what is possible and realistic in the realm of CSR programs, it’s time to allocate resources and start the ball rolling. By committing the resources, human and capital, early on you make the program real and ensure it will be enacted upon.
You will need to clarity the resourcing of the program. You will need to know who will be leading the program and whom they will be leading? Are full time resources required, or will managing the program become a KRA of existing resources?
Then, it’s important to decide on exactly how the program will be making a difference. Will it be through funds raised, if so, how will this money be raised, or will it be by supplying volunteers to participate in the community, if so who and how often?
Then it’s important to come up with a communications plan, how often the organization will communicate internally and externally, and exactly what will be communicated. Getting the message out there through existing internal channels will help build support for it as well as momentum, as will pushing the key messages of the program out to external parties through traditional PR and marketing efforts.
The CSR program will only succeed if it becomes part of an organizations’ culture and values, if the hearts and minds of those involved in it are won, and the easiest way to do this is by making it easy for people to participate in the program and see the results of their efforts.
Simple strategies such as giving people two days off per year for volunteering, or making participation something that counts towards performance reviews, helps make CSR part of peoples day to day work lives. The easier you make it for people to participate, and the more you celebrate success and participation, the better the chances of the program succeeding internally and making a difference in the community.
The final point, the most important point for any financially driven organization, is to track and measure the program against the benchmarks that were established at the outset. Measuring key indices such as staff sentiment, actual dollars raised, time vs. return etc will help keep the program on track, plus it will establish the viability and success of the project and help gain greater buy-in from people at all levels of the organisation.