We all matter; individuals, groups of individuals, the communities we form as individuals and the environments in which we exist, all matter. This is truly the guiding principle and foundation of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Coombs and Holladay furthers the sentiment by noting that the philosophy of corporate social responsibility “encourages businesses to use their expertise and other resources, to improve society.” And a 2013 study conducted by Cone Communications, showed how important it is to millennials, many just entering the work force, for a business to have a sound CSR presence.
According to the study, 91 percent of millennials surveyed, had their trust increased by companies that actively supported social and environmental issues, while 89 percent showed increased loyalty to said companies, as well as increased likelihood buy said companies’ products and services. The fact is, there are many benefits for a firm to actively engage in CSR efforts, including, improved public reputation and public perception, enhanced ability to recruit, develop and retain employees, increased sales and more.
However, to achieve any of these benefits, a firm needs a sound CSR strategy that includes more than just throwing its money and name at random causes. The following are some steps for achieving a comprehensive and effective CSR strategy.
- Define CSR As It Pertains To The Firm – Yes, there is the academic, industry standard of what exactly CSR is. That is, firms incorporating efforts into their business operations that supports environmental and social issues. However, this is a broad concept that can mean different things to different firms. In other words, does CSR to a particular firm mean greater support/concern for employees, or does it mean actively taking steps to save the environment/going green and does engaging in CSR efforts also mean hoping to improve the firm’s reputation, increase awareness or maybe increase sales? In other words, a firm should be able to clearly define its bottom line with regards to CSR, particularly to its stakeholders, before moving forward.
- Align With Firm’s Mission/Goals – It is important that whatever issue or issues, the firm supports and takes on, must strategically align with its mission and goals. If not, firms risk the public questioning their motives, being skeptical, possibly losing profits and ultimately having their efforts fail. A perfect example of a CSR effort that strategically aligns with the firm’s bottom line is IBM’s Smarter Planet Program which uses technology to control energy use and waste. It is a concept that combines what IBM does, with efforts to save the environment.
- Establish Specific Goals and Objectives – For any strategic effort, identifying specific goals and objectives is essential or it likely becomes a disorganized effort, lacking focus. So it is imperative that before embarking on any CSR effort, firms clearly identify and outline the specific goals and objectives they hope to achieve through its efforts.
- Establish Specific Tactics for Goals and Objectives – As with goals and objectives, any successful strategic effort also needs specific tactics which perfectly align with each objective. It is an essential road map for a firm, to know how exactly they are going to successfully accomplish the goal of their CSR effort.
- Know Your Customers/Audience – Know exactly who your customers and audience are and by that token, try to understand specifically what they are most passionate about and interested in. This will increase the likelihood of their actively supporting the firm’s efforts and also be less skeptical of the firm’s motives. Also, chances are, whatever causes or issues they are most passionate about or interested in will perfectly align with the firm’s goals and mission.
- Focus On The Right Issues – While firms should not be afraid to stand up for what is right, it is always a risk taking on social causes, particularly controversial ones. So it is very important that whatever issue a firm takes on, they make certain it is not one that is likely to alienate a significant part of their target market or audience.
- Create A CSR Team – Even if it is as small as three individuals, for firms to truly have an effective and successful CSR effort, there needs to be a team solely dedicated to it. This allows for sufficient work hours to be dedicated to the efforts and more importantly, continuous time and energy dedicated to it. Treating CSR efforts as simply a side project is a mistake and quite possibly a costly one for firms.
- Identify and Engage Key Stakeholders – For any firm to have a successful CSR strategy, there needs to be support from as many of the firm’s key stakeholders as possible. This includes management, shareholders, employees and even customers. Having stakeholders fully on board leads to greater collective support and effort and the increased likelihood of success.
- Research The Competition – What are your firm’s competitors doing with regards to CSR? One can always learn from others – be it what not to do and what doesn’t work or what works and what others should do. It doesn’t mean taking on the exact same cause or simply copying the exact strategy of another firm. Rather, getting insight into some of the things that have failed for some firms and some of the things that have worked very well and figuring out how to incorporate that information into your firm’s strategy.
- Strategically Align With The Right Nonprofit – It is pretty much a given that whatever social, economic or environmental cause a firm takes on, there is an NGO or not for profit organization dedicated to it. Strategic alliances with any of these organizations helps to add credibility and awareness to a firm’s CSR efforts. One note however, it is important that these organizations be vetted carefully as it could be disastrous for firms to end up entangled with an organization that is later revealed to be corrupt in some way. And the same goes for the NGO’s and/or nonprofits, in their choosing to align with any firm.