Creating an effective CSR strategy: 7 top tips

Writing a check isn’t the only way businesses can support a wide variety of causes.

For many years, before the term “corporate social responsibility” existed, a company’s altruism was primarily judged in terms of the dollars it contributed to worthy causes. While there are still many philanthropic endeavors worthy of financial support, they now represent just one aspect of being a responsible, socially aware organization. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a way of doing business in which companies integrate societal and environmental goals into their operations with the intention of creating positive change.

These days, there is a broad expectation that everyone from major corporations down to small businesses will act responsibly. Many consumers—particularly younger generations—are eager to do business with companies that have a good workplace culture and enact socially responsible policies across a range of issues. Many consumers are concerned about where the products they purchase originate, where the money they spend ends up, and how companies mitigate environmental damage when producing a product and bringing it to market.

For companies that want to do good while making a profit, here are some steps to develop a culture of awareness and responsibility.

  1. Know what’s going on

    If you create products in developing countries or purchase products from suppliers that do so, make sure you stay aware of working conditions at the source. It may make short-term financial sense to outsource production to those regions, but the damage done to your reputation could wipe out those gains if you’re found to be using impoverished workers, child labor or unsafe working conditions.

  2. Go green

    Concerns about climate change have grown over the years. As a result, solar power, recycled materials, water-saving bathroom fixtures and energy-saving light fixtures have become a staple of new construction and renovation projects. Additionally, some corporations are buying carbon credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions. With many consumers expecting companies to have eco-friendly plans in place, search for sustainability opportunities in your physical infrastructure as well as your manufacturing and distribution processes.

  3. Do what’s right for your brand

    Don’t let your business’s social responsibility practices become scattered, inconsistent or too off brand. Some businesses execute their social responsibility plans with initiatives originating from many parts of the organization, which can lead to unevenness in the efforts and a lack of central vision. Instead, you may want to consider limiting your business’s initiatives to an area where you are the expert or an area that ties directly to your business. For example, many outdoor apparel companies now make sustainable clothing practices a key aspect of their branding. The step seems like a natural extension of their existing brands.

  4. Train your people

    Awareness and responsibility are qualities rooted in strong ethics. With that in mind, hire people who demonstrate strong moral footing and reinforce that they should use good ethics in the decisions they make for work. Anti-harassment and diversity training can also spread socially responsible work practices throughout your company. If you teach your employees about the importance of fair, ethical thinking as an integral part of your company’s decision-making process, you’ll help maintain it as a part of your culture—and your customers will take notice.

  5. Form a committee

    A CSR plan requires leadership to maintain a working knowledge of the issues at hand to formulate a response plan. By recruiting people from within your ranks to form a CSR committee, you are developing a proactive approach and will be able to mobilize resources faster as your company spearheads new initiatives. Having buy-in from a dedicated CSR committee also means your plans will have a better chance of making an impact.

  6. Put money back in

    Philanthropy still plays an important role in any culture of CSR. Today, the need for targeted philanthropy is widespread: It might mean tackling a global problem like working to eradicate malaria or helping the local community by sponsoring food drives or supporting a soup kitchen. But there is a difference between financial support and getting involved, so don’t just sign the check and walk away. Actively promote causes that align with your company’s values by matching your employees’ charitable contributions. Give them time off for their charitable activities and public service, such as volunteering on election day.

  7. Communicate your corporate initiatives

    Many businesses fail to share their stories, resulting in the impression that they are doing nothing. While they may spend millions on branding, they fail to link the ways that their products, services and business contribute to a better world. Today’s consumers consider a company’s CSR work, but they can’t make purchasing decisions based on information they do not have. So make sure to publicize your CSR initiatives. You might include them on your business’s website, draft press releases or even discuss them across social media channels. Your community of followers may take note and reward your company for its good deeds.

Three things to do:

  1. Get a primer on what your business needs to know about environmental, social and governance practices.
  2. Discover the benefits of establishing a corporate foundation.
  3. Learn how to turn diversity, equity and inclusion into an asset for your business.