Corporate Social Responsibility, once a rare occurrence, has become the standard for companies of all sizes. Consumers, job seekers, and stakeholders have all come to expect that businesses participate in corporate social responsibility programs on some level.
This isn't news to anyone. Even ten years ago, over 50% of corporate managers surveyed across the globe considered corporate social responsibility to be a high or very high priority.
But simply having a community engagement team or occasional volunteer days alone isn’t going to cut it. In fact, done poorly, corporate social responsibility initiatives can backfire.
How Could Corporate Social Responsibility Backfire?
The fact is, most Americans do not trust corporations, banks, or other institutions right now.
According to a 2016 Gallup Poll, less than 20% of Americans trust big business. This climate of distrust means that corporate social responsibility programs can be met with cynicism and will certainly be scrutinized.
Here is why:
Corporate Social Responsibility as Marketing: Companies that try to use corporate social responsibility as a marketing ploy will be found out and judged in the court of public opinion. This kind of thing has happened so often with environmentally focused programs that there’s a word for it: greenwashing. For example, hosting a well-publicized employee giving initiative for an ecological charity while failing to meet EPA guidelines is greenwashing.
Corporate Social Responsibility to Attract and Retain Employees: Do job seekers consider a company’s corporate social responsibility, or lack thereof when looking for employment? Absolutely. Millennials especially. And the statistics support it:
Nearly two-thirds of millennials are willing to take a lower paying job from a company they view as responsible over a higher paying job with a company they view as irresponsible.
Additionally, corporate social responsibility programs can increase employee job satisfaction and loyalty.
But if a company is only engaging in charitable giving or other socially responsible programs for their own benefit, employees are going to see through that. Employees and job seekers are paying attention to corporate social responsibility because they want to make a difference and contribute to the world in a meaningful way.
Social responsibility can’t just be an auxiliary benefit and it certainly cannot be a cloak to disguise poor practices. Instead, it needs to be an intrinsic part of a company’s mission, values, and identity.
What’s the Right Way to Do Corporate Social Responsibility?
In a world where the cynicism is as high as the expectations, it may seem like doing corporate social responsibility right is near impossible. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s actually very simple.
A company that is committed to making a difference and not only lives these values but also helps employees do the same in easy and transparent ways will have effective corporate social programs.
So, what does that look like exactly?
Make Social Responsibility Integral: First and foremost, identify corporate social responsibility opportunities that align with your company’s mission and values.
Consider adding social responsibility and sustainability to your core company values, if they are not already included. Use these values, as you would all other core values, to inform decisions and steer the direction of your company.
Give Back in Meaningful Ways: After you’ve identified your core values, find ways to give back, as a company that aligns with them. Matching employee charitable gifts is a great way to show your commitment to making a difference while empowering employees by making their donations more impactful.
It’s important your contributions are meaningful to your employees as well. Keep in mind, if you limit the causes or charities that can receive matching gifts, you may alienate employees who do not see the causes they support on the approved list.
Be Open and Transparent: While the impetus for CSR programs shouldn’t be marketing, that doesn’t mean you should keep quiet about the good work you are doing.
CSR initiatives can raise awareness and encourage others to give or get involved with causes that might not have otherwise. Like we said earlier, everyone from consumers to stakeholders wants to know how companies are contributing to the greater good.
That’s it. Integrate CSR programs into your company identity. Offer easily accessible and transparent giving opportunities for employees. Maximize employee giving with corporate giving.
Treating corporate social responsibility as a fad or a ploy is not only disingenuous, it’s bad business. Afterall, corporate social responsibility is not a passing phase, it is the way ahead. At Encast, we work to create CSR solutions to guide companies of all sizes forward.