You don’t have to look far to see and experience the social issues of our time. From pandemics to human rights violations, these issues are universally felt — not as some distant phenomenon, but in our own neighborhoods, families and workplaces. As actors and participants in society, many businesses are deciding to respond to these issues with a CSR program.
Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, means action, advocacy and accountability. An authentic, meaningful CSR program has many business benefits, including employee engagement and retention.
Some companies donate a fixed percentage of their profits to respectable causes. Others create internal diversity programs to foster inclusion and equality within their own walls. The ways to address social issues are as numerous as the issues themselves.
How to choose social causes for your CSR program
As organizations engage in social causes, they are required to ask a few hard questions: Which social issues should we address? What does action look like? And how can we participate in politically charged issues without alienating customers or employees who see things differently?
One approach is to focus on social issues that connect to your product or purpose. Aetna, a CVS Health company, announced they would waive out-of-pocket costs for telehealth services through September 2020 to support customers amid the COVID-19 pandemic. REI has long encouraged outdoor recreation over consumerism in their “Opt Outside” campaign. Gillette challenged toxic masculinity in a 2019 brand film.
Another approach is to focus on universally problematic issues. Consider the racial injustices amplified throughout America in early 2020. These issues touch all corners of society and industry, and it merits widespread involvement. PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta announced a commitment of $400 million over five years to “to lift up Black communities and increase Black representation at PepsiCo.” Ben & Jerry’s also released a statement about dismantling white supremacy.
As organizations engage in respectable causes, they signal to their employees that they care about well-being throughout the world and throughout the workforce. When employees experience this care first-hand, they’re more likely to be engaged in their jobs.
How to get employees involved in your CSR strategy
There’s no “right way” to take a stand. As you think about your company’s culture and values, however, you will likely see connections to relevant causes and initiatives. It’s often in these neighboring areas that your organization can do the most good.
If your organization’s culture fails to inspire action or social responsibility, consider doubling down on creating something more intentional with your CSR strategy. An intentional culture not only helps to align an organization, but it also drives real business performance.
Another way to engage with social causes is to let your employees take the lead. Allow individual contributors to call out whichever causes they’re most passionate about. Use employee resource groups or an employee engagement platform to field this input. Encouraging this dialogue shows trust, and it allows for free-flowing communication within your organization. Limeade research shows that when employees feel that information flows freely, they’re nearly three times more likely to feel that their organization provides a positive employee experience.
6 CSR activities to try right now
According to Sprout Social, two-thirds of consumers say it’s important for brands to take public stands on social and political issues, and more than half are open to this happening on social media — the top channel for consumer receptivity. A recent survey found that 69% of millennial and Gen Z consumers think brands should be actively involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.
It’s encouraging to see that brand activism is not just acceptable, but expected. By digging into your culture and by giving your employees a voice, you’ll find causes and issues to activate around. Here are a few CSR activities to get started:
- Match employee donations
- Donate directly to an organization of your choice. Use an independent rating system like Charity Navigator to ensure your donations are well-used.
- Use your platform to bring attention to social justice issues, marginalized populations and worthy causes
- Release a public statement to demonstrate solidarity with and commitment to those who suffer disproportionately from systemic injustice
- Host employee Q&As, resource groups or town hall meetings to field concerns and suggestions
- Take an inventory of your organization’s inclusion efforts
Some social issues will be riskier to address than others due to political overlap. Choosing which social causes to engage with depends on your organization’s values and risk tolerance. Regardless of when and how you take a stand, the unique platform and resources within an organization have the capacity to create equality, understanding and well-being throughout the world.