The difference between meaningful and hollow CSR programs and why employers need to expect staff and customers can tell the difference
15 June 2021 at 8:33 am
Organisations that consult with their employees in the development of their CSR strategy and share learnings towards a vision beyond the financial will have a far greater impact on employee and stakeholder engagement, writes Francesca Pinzone, COO of Umbo.
The opportunities that can be derived from corporate organisations having clear and meaningful corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies are well documented and significant. Previously, CSR has worked from the premise of “giving back” and “doing no harm”, often via a lens of altruism, but more often, via an opportunistic lens.
A quick online search on the collective benefits of CSR will show that positive outcomes for the company – such as increased customer retention, differentiation in the market and enhancing influence in the industry – are highlighted as the key benefits. Less frequently are greater social impact, environmental impact and sustainability identified.
Our current political and social climate demands that corporations understand and view their role as change agents in the social system, including having an ability to rapidly respond to social movements and current events. More than that, employees are increasingly demanding that their company is not only a good employer but that they have a moral compass that ensures there is a positive impact on society and the environment.
Which leads us to the question of how employees know that their organisation is actually doing good.
CSR programs that are transparent, holistic, take a long-term approach, and are a core part of organisational strategy not only foster economic and social development, but engage with employees and stakeholders in a meaningful way. Studies have shown that when employees believe their organisation invests in a CSR practice that is both morally consistent and strategic, they tend to invest additional effort into their work.
Organisations that consult with their employees in the development of their CSR strategy and share learnings (and failures) towards a vision beyond the financial will have a far greater impact on employee and stakeholder engagement. CSR strategies that have previously held light touch engagement for employees, such as corporate volunteering days, are no longer enough. Nor are the small grants programs that are tokenistic and perpetuate the power imbalance between NFP organisations and corporates.
Most importantly, working with for-purpose organisations in the design of their CSR strategy should be a collaborative process. Time needs to be spent in the co-design process to ensure the engagement is meaningful, strategic and outcomes based.
There are incredible opportunities for corporates to engage their teams in this process, providing development opportunities and facilitating collective learning, accountability and gaining trust. We know that trust in business is growing, with the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer identifying business and NFPs as the only institutions seen as both competent and ethical. The opportunities for corporates to lean into this and strengthen their engagement with their employees are evident.
Stakeholders are demanding strategic, values aligned and impactful CSR strategies – and so they should. The time is now for companies to move beyond the generosity approach to targeted, business-aligned efforts with a focus on understanding not only the organisations whom they wish to support, but the root causes of the issues they are working towards solving. This will not only have far greater employee and stakeholder engagement, but will catalyse positive change for society and the environment.