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The Power of Storytelling in CSR

By Leo Ramirez Posted on May 20, 2020

In the world of Corporate Social Responsibility, businesses put extraordinary efforts into compelling and memorable programs. CSR has become one of the most high impact strategies for driving engagement, productivity, brand awareness, retention, and shareholder value. It’s become so important that investor heavyweights, such as Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock, have boldly declared that portfolio companies and new investments must contribute to society.

At Encast, we’ve engaged with over 100 companies on their past, present, and future CSR strategy. Over ⅔ of these companies are investing in programs that are materially contributing to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. Surprisingly, however, many CSR campaigns have a low-level of internal and public awareness, which dampens both the societal and economic value they create.

Not all CSR programs are created equal. The common differentiator in successful campaigns is a technique we all use for connecting and relating: storytelling. 

Take for instance, PNC’s “Grow Up Great” initiative. In 2004, the bank launched a 10-year, $100 million commitment, which played a central role in the company’s CSR strategy. 16 years later, the initiative is stronger than ever with a recently-committed $150 million for a total of $500 million to date, including partnerships with The Sesame Street Workshop and Fred Rogers Productions. To this day, many people associate PNC Bank with this program. Interestingly, the Grow Up Great Initiative also played an integral role in the company’s multi-channel marketing approach, which dramatically increased societal awareness around the program. 

Also consider Unilever’s India-focused Project Sakti in 2001, which was forged at the intersection of women entrepreneurship, economic empowerment, and sanitation — all highly relevant social issues for the region. Women across the region were empowered with training, assistance, and mentorship to help them gain financial independence. As one beneficiary, Shakti amma, Maharashtra, remarked:

My contacts have increased. I was not social but now I speak to many ladies and I share information with them as well. Now people know me. I have an identity in society. We normally can’t go out but because of this programme, I can go out now. I get to know many people. It’s like a designation to me in society. My credibility has increased in society. People know me now.

Unilever is revered in the Indian subcontinent not only because of the inherent value of the program, but how effectively its story - and those of its beneficiaries - was told. The program was so widely lauded that it and similar ones have been implemented throughout the globe.

Finally, consider J.C. and Karen Spencer of Houston, who were stranded in their home during Hurricane Harvey. Authorities were so overwhelmed that this eldery couple ran out of options. Then, J.C. called his local Chick-fil-A and “...ordered two grilled chicken burritos with extra egg and a boat.” Upon recognizing the couple, the franchise's management, who’s corporate reputation is famous for their friendly staff and community service, sprung to the rescue: delivering their order, down to a jet ski! Chick-fil-A franchises have among the highest employee retention rates in the fast food industry and boast almost 60% more in sales than most McDonald’s. Investments in people, workplace culture, and community programs have paid dividends in their brand and customer loyalty so much that a couple in need sought them for help. The viral retelling of this story is something no amount of marketing can buy. 

These are just a few of numerous examples of how consistent, deliberate storytelling positively impacts business. In a world of uncertainty and negativity, CSR storytelling brings inspiration to your team, the communities in which your business operates, and the causes you support, bringing purpose beyond the bottom line. Now is the time to double down on storytelling that elevate the impact of successful programs and, in turn, increases team morale, brand loyalty, and shareholder value.

Encast News, CSR, ROI

Author: Leo Ramirez

Leo is the co-founder and CEO of Encast, an organization dedicated to improving the way CSR professions create, manage, and measure CSR programs. Leo is passionate about the role that culture plays in business success. Leo has launched and managed social ventures, lead multi-disciplinary teams, and built solid relationships with civic and corporate leaders. His 25-year career has spanned executive management, business development, consulting, nonprofit management, technical support and engineering positions with Southwest Key Programs, Oracle, Sun Microsystems, Coremetrics, Trilogy and Apple.

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