How to take a more meaningful approach to corporate social responsibility in 2017

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, has risen in prominence over the past couple of years owing to the growing social conscience of today’s consumers. Nowadays, the rising generation of buyers would prefer to spend their money on a brand, service or product that displays strong ethics, is tied to worthwhile charitable causes, and takes its environmental responsibilities seriously. Similarly, up and coming businesses and entrepreneurs are showing preference for investing in tools and services provided by socially conscious businesses which share similar values to their own, over and above a big corporate name.

While the quality of a product or service remains important, along with good customer service etc, nine in 10 consumers expect companies to operate responsibly to address social and environmental issues, according to a study by Cone Communications. Eighty-four percent of global consumers also say they seek out responsible products whenever possible.

Businesses need to realise the importance of creating a ‘meaningful’ CSR strategy; one which they are truly passionate about and reflects their core business values, as opposed to simply ticking a box. But where should an organisation begin? Here are some ideas businesses, big and small, can explore to ensure they are giving back to their customers and communities in a meaningful way…

1. Keep it personal and local

The most meaningful CSR strategies are built in consultation with staff at all levels, asking them what charitable causes they’re most passionate about. Some may have strong affiliations with particular charities for personal reasons, and as a business it’s good to know about these and support them too, where you can. Staff will appreciate your loyalty, and will also be far more likely to lend their support to any CSR initiatives you organise.

It can also be worthwhile researching local charities that seem a good fit for your business to support. Maybe you have some relevant services you can offer pro bono, or possibly your product could be of benefit to them. It can be a good idea to invite these local charities in to present to your staff so that they have a good understanding of the cause. By finding out what your staff care about most, you’re well on your way towards building a CSR strategy that will stick.

2. Implement a staff volunteering program

Volunteering says a lot about a company’s sincerity and commitment to its CSR programme. Most charities have volunteering opportunities available to businesses, from skilled to more general labour and support roles, and this can be a great way for employees to build a personal connection with the cause.

Many more forward-thinking organisations offer their employees paid time off to work on projects important to them. Deloitte, for example, offers its employees unlimited paid time off for volunteering. The programme is hugely successful and to date, nearly 40,000 Deloitte employees have participated in some sort of volunteer work. There were also 28,000 employees from 80 offices who took part in the company’s Impact Day, Deloitte’s annual day of service to others. Apple also runs a volunteer grant program where for every hour that an employee volunteers with a non-profit organisation, the company will donate $25 to that charity.

“When employees are actively involved in giving back it can lead to a deeper commitment and connection to the work,” says Elizabeth Stocker, a consultant at Great Place to Work.

3. Be environmentally aware

One of the best places to start with CSR is the environment. Nowadays businesses of any size have no excuse but to be mindful of their carbon footprint, and have measures in place to reduce it as far as possible. From recycling and waste policies, through to use of renewable energy sources and creating an eco-friendly office, as well as travel policies…businesses should be careful to minimise their impact on the environment. Virtual working and meetings can be a great place to start, ensuring that only essential travel is taking place. Depending on the nature of the business, if production is involved, only sustainable and ethically sourced materials or ingredients should be used.

4. Explore the resources and services available

For businesses serious about creating a meaningful CSR programme, there is much help and support available. For example, City London (part of the City of London Corporation) is a free skills-based volunteering brokerage, facilitating relationships between businesses and community organisations located in the City of London and the seven surrounding boroughs.

There are also many online resources available for businesses seeking help with building their CSR strategy, as well as specialist CSR consultancies which can help with creating a long term programme.

5. Set-up a governance and measurement structure

It’s critical that a CSR audit is carried out on a regular basis to measure, monitor and evaluate the impact of the programme. All findings should be published and shared internally with all members of staff to ensure accountability and transparency.

Are your donations getting to the people who need them most and what difference are they making? Are you using all the resources and skills that you have available? Do you have the right partnerships in place, or could they be a better fit? Are you inspiring and supporting your staff to volunteer and donate their skills and time? These are the questions that you need to be asking yourself, to ensure you’re continually refining and improving your business’ CSR programme.

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