By Ryan Ayers
In the past, companies could mostly stay neutral on topics like politics, social and environmental issues, and other cultural concerns. Those days are over. Today, consumers expect companies to contribute to the good of society and take a stand against injustice.
In an era where brands have to be politically correct and activist in order to appeal to a millennial and Gen-Z population, companies have to get on board with social responsibility. Consumers will know if your company doesn’t have a plan and they will penalize you for it.
For some time, the topic of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has made the rounds through business circles. It’s clear that communities benefit when companies do the right thing, but what is the benefit of CSR for companies? Well, authentic and successful CSR initiatives can actually lead to improved profits and increased customer goodwill.
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As a business leader, your actions directly correlate to the success or failure of your enterprise. Today, social responsibility from corporations is a hot-button issue you can’t afford to ignore. As you build your organization, it’s important to create a CSR plan and stay true to your organizational values as you grow.
Moving beyond feel-good initiatives
Any company can say that they want to do the right thing. Many organizations only adopt CSR initiatives because they know they’re what customers are looking for. But these insincere, “feel-good” initiatives are usually nothing but fluff, and companies risk alienating customers by using CSR solely for their own interests or by sending inconsistent messages.
To really create the win-win situation that CSR can deliver when it’s done well, you need to move beyond feel-good initiatives. Companies need to really consider their organizational values and make concerted and consistent efforts to support those values.
For example, any company can create a cute marketing campaign about going green, but the companies that really value environmental stewardship take it much further and overhaul their everyday operations to become more environmentally friendly.
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Prepare for CSR success
Before you create a CSR plan, it’s important to understand what works and what doesn’t.
While you can align yourself with a cause that isn’t related to your business’s product or service, it’s generally much better to leverage your organizational competencies to contribute to social or environmental causes. A good example of this in action is Campbell’s Nourish, a product that was created to address hunger and is only distributed in food banks. The goal of reducing hunger aligns with the brand’s values and direct ability to give back.
Another way to prepare for CSR success is to realize you can’t spread yourself too thin. You might feel passionate about several projects, but it’s better to concentrate your efforts on one specific cause. You’ll be much more effective at creating real change if you’re not trying to do everything at once.
Finally, your organization can’t just get involved at the surface level. You need to understand the issues on a deeper level, gather research and resources for your customers, and create your plan with the complexity of the issue in mind. You can further build credibility by partnering with experts who can provide more knowledge and help you truly make a difference.
Getting started with CSR
There’s a growing interest in movements that improve the quality of life for humanity. For instance, consumers will invest $300 billion in socially responsible enterprises every year by the year 2020, according to McKinsey & Company.
Not only does CSR matter for consumers, who are more likely to buy from socially-responsible companies, but it can make a difference with investors, stockholders, and stock prices. For this reason, you should set up a social responsibility plan carefully, understanding that the way you approach your programs could make a big difference in whether or not your company grows and in the talent you attract.
To get started on your CSR plan, your first step is to identify a cause that aligns with your brand. Sometimes, this is simple, while for other businesses it can be challenging to find the movement that will resonate with your organizational values and your customers.
Think about the intent of your organization and the values that it was founded upon. Does your organization care deeply about the environment and sustainability? Does your organization care about education access? Perhaps your organization cares about hygiene and health. Identify what it is that truly aligns with your organization’s values and pursue a CSR plan based around that.
Not only does it just make sense to put your energy toward a cause that’s related to your for-profit business, but it also helps your customers understand what you’re doing. About 58% of U.S. consumers don’t understand brands’ CSR initiatives, largely because they are not aligned with what the brand does or the it hasn’t been explained well. A simple initiative, like planting trees for every item sold (or ten, as in the case of outdoor apparel retailer tentree) or donating products to people in need is easy for customers to support.
CSR should not be profit focused
The most successful CSR programs ultimately come from a place of integrity and goodwill. Although CSR is now all but mandatory for business success, it should never be done just to prove how much your company has done or to increase profits.
That being said, it is important to highlight and showcase your company’s good deeds. Use social media, email marketing, and advertising to let your current and future customers know what you’re working toward. Highlight whom and what you’re helping and why.
Measure your impact to learn, not to brag. As you build your startup’s CSR plan, start to collect data and see if there are any improvements you can make. Perhaps the following year you develop a larger and more far-reaching plan. Creating a successful CSR plan takes time—but it’s time well spent.
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