7 Points to Cover
Businesses today need to do more than just make money. In B2B and B2C markets alike, customers have grown increasingly concerned about the practices their purchases are funding. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a leading concern as a result.
Companies that hope to outperform their competitors and appeal to customers should consider their CSR initiatives.
Why Is It Important to Have a CSR Program?
In the past, meaningful CSR work could improve a brand’s reputation by showing that a company cares for the same things as its customers. Now, it goes beyond that. The lack of an effective CSR program could hurt a business’s finances.
Studies show that 70% of modern consumers want to know how companies address social and environmental issues. Similarly, 46% pay close attention to these actions when deciding whether or not to buy a product. CSR can affect employment, too, with 44% of Millennials and 49% of Gen Z making choices over who to work for based on their personal ethics.
A CSR program can make or break a business. Here are seven points to cover to plan an effective one.
1. Play to Your Company’s Strengths
The first step in planning a CSR program is to decide what issues to tackle. One of the best ways to ensure these strategies will be successful is to align them with what the company does well. If a business has knowledge, experience and resources in one area, that could be a great place to start.
For example, a logistics company is in a prime position to tackle sustainability in packaging and transportation. Alternatively, a medical organization could start a community health initiative. The more a CSR program aligns with a business’s strengths and market, the more likely it is to be successful.
2. Choose a Relevant Goal
Another thing to keep in mind for deciding on a CSR goal is what’s relevant to customers. CSR can take many forms, and what the most important path to take is depends on a company’s market. Tackling issues that matter to customers helps garner their support and can help guide specific CSR strategies.
Take environmental sustainability, for example. While this issue matters to many people, the specifics of how to approach it can vary. Businesses in dense urban areas may consider funding parks, as every acre of trees removes 80 pounds of air pollution, and these communities may not have many. A seafront business, by contrast, could focus its efforts on cleaning ocean pollution.
3. Focus Internally at First
One easy to miss but crucial factor in CSR strategy is addressing internal company issues. Part of social responsibility is taking care of employees, and businesses should focus on this before anything else. Without taking care of internal issues before external ones, any CSR efforts could come across as dishonest.
Imagine a business started a highly publicized gender equality campaign that was entirely focused outwardly. The company could fund women’s STEM education and advertise equality but neglect to fix gender inequality within its own workplace. However noble its other actions may be, employees and customers will find them more hypocritical and distasteful than responsible.
To avoid this, businesses should start on the inside, then move to external strategies. This will improve support from both employees and customers.
4. Be Transparent
Along those same lines, businesses should strive to be as transparent as possible with their CSR programs. If a company says they care about an issue but don’t have any evidence to show for it, people will be skeptical. By contrast, transparency improves trust and shows that a business isn’t trying to hide anything.
Transparency is particularly important for environmental efforts. Many businesses, often unintentionally, fall into “greenwashing,” where they try to convince customers that they’re more sustainable than they really are. Studies show that greenwashing often negatively affects brand reputation instead of helping it.
The way to avoid misleading customers and partners is to be transparent. Post regular updates and internal data about different initiatives and their impact. Even if the results of an effort aren’t phenomenal, being upfront about it can improve a company’s reputation.
5. Involve Everyone
When it comes time to act on CSR goals, businesses should make sure their efforts are comprehensive. These strategies should involve everyone, from executives to employees to stakeholders to customers. Involving more people can create a sense of purpose for those involved and improve outcomes thanks to a broad, unified effort.
The most dramatic actions should come from the top, but companies can ask employees and customers to make small changes. For example, since transportation is the leading carbon emissions source, businesses could ask employees to bike or carpool to work. Rewarding these actions can encourage broader participation, leading to more significant results.
6. Be Flexible
CSR programs should have a specific, detailed focus, but it’s also important to be flexible. While many social and environmental issues are always relevant, sometimes something happens that brings widespread attention to a specific matter. When this happens, companies should adapt to address it to show they’re up-to-date on ongoing issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic and widespread racial justice movements in 2020 are perfect examples. All of a sudden, these issues captivated the world’s attention, and many people looked to see how companies would respond. Those that stay silent can come across as removed from everyday life or unconcerned.
When COVID struck, some companies donated proceeds to relief funds or medical research. Quick actions like this help a business stay relevant to consumers’ current needs, and this requires planning for some flexibility.
7. Measure CSR Program Success
As with any change to an organization, CSR programs are an ongoing process. Consequently, they deserve frequent re-assessing to make sure they’re bringing about the changes they should. After starting one of these initiatives, businesses should measure relevant performance indicators to inform future actions.
If some strategies had sub-par results, companies could move away from them. If some worked well, they could apply similar strategies elsewhere. It’s also important to publicize these results and to keep stakeholders and customers informed and improve transparency.
An Effective CSR Program Is Vital for Companies Today
As customers become more aware of how their spending affects the world around them, CSR becomes all the more important. Companies have to do more than turn a profit today. They must also show that they care about the same things their customers do.
These seven points can help guide CSR programs in any company. If a strategy can meet all of these considerations effectively, businesses can leave a lasting, positive impact on the world.