The Caring Economy: How to Win with Corporate Social Responsibility

Core Values Series

Every business wants to stand apart from the crowd and attract the best clients and brightest employees it can. There is one powerful business differentiator that your company may be missing out on. Aside from the services or products you offer, it is important to incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) into your business strategy.

What is CSR, exactly? According to Investopedia, the exact definition is, “A self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.” There are typically three categories of goals set within this model: environmental, social, and governance (ESG). However, CSR can be tailored to exactly what will best fit your company.

Toby Usnik, author of The Caring Economy: How to Win With Corporate Social Responsibility, encourages those organizations that wish to begin incorporating CSR to consider the “triple-bottom-line” measurement of success. Are you currently able to: 1. Grow your people? 2. Make money? 3. Help the planet? This third point goes beyond mere corporate giving. Identify how your organization is uniquely positioned to give back to society. Usnik says, “Creating a platform that unites customers, employees, and community members around a higher purpose is good business.” Consider how you can unify your people as you get started with your CSR operation.

Checklist for getting started with CSR

  • Mission Alignment: Get support from the top immediately and set objectives that are aligned with your company’s mission statement. “When company leadership is missing, it is too easy for CSR to take on the aura of a “nice to have” exercise, and not the mission-critical, brand-building, employee-morale boosting enterprise that it can be,” according to Usnik.
  • Quick Wins: Consider if there is anything your organization is already doing that you can fold into a CSR strategy. This may entail making quick modifications, reframing, or publicizing current efforts.
  • Company Culture: Seek CSR opportunities that are aligned with and will strengthen the company’s culture. For example, seeking out volunteering opportunities will allow your employees to connect with their community, as well as with each other.
  • SWOT Analysis: Complete an assessment of your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, and then plan your efforts based around this analysis.
  • Listening Tour: Discuss your thoughts with colleagues and gather feedback and fresh perspectives. Time spent on research early on will come in handy later when you need to make a case for CSR funding and other resources.
  • Definitions: CSR can and should be open-ended so it can adapt to the different organizations it serves, but that means getting your team on the same page. You will also need to develop clear feedback systems, such as one-on-one conversations, small group discussions, or surveys.
  • Measurement: Decide on performance measures for maintaining the mission and reinforcing decision-making. You can set CSR KPIs for inputs, outputs, outcomes, and impacts. While outcomes are numerical and easy to measure, impacts will be more narrative-based and are generally what matter most to stakeholders.

As with most new initiatives, there are bound to be some obstacles you face when getting your CSR off the ground. The biggest obstacles you should prepare for are engaging employees, identifying partners, finding funding, staffing programs, and tracking and measuring your results. Therefore, the above checklist is critical to follow as it will help you avoid some of these hurdles as best as possible. Also, keep in mind that the goal of CSR is not to greenwash – it’s to actually make a difference. Authenticity is at the heart of a truly successful CSR strategy, as is a realistic outlook. Start with a tangible goal and make small changes to keep the momentum going forward. Paul Polman of Unilever cautions, “You have to be careful that you do not get involved in a million little things… Ensure that the issues you do take on link to your business model and that you stay focused.” It is critical to your mission not to stray from the task at hand.

At the end of the day, CSR is a journey, not a destination. But we must have a vision for what the arrival point might look like. As you consider how CSR will fit in with your current business model, ask yourself: What do we stand for? What have we contributed? Where are we headed?

For example, at Gate 39 Media, our core values are diversity, teamwork, learning, and empathy. We have contributed to community organizations such as A Leg To Stand On and The Greater Chicago Food Depository, just to name a couple. As for where we are headed, we recently implemented our new United Committee to promote our core values. This committee’s responsibilities range from planning social  activities to foster teamwork, to choosing different community organizations to support. As we continue to grow our CSR efforts, our United Committee will be at the forefront of this mission.

Toby Usnik said, “Your values as expressed through your CSR will prepare you and your company to flourish in a Caring Economy.”

Gate 39 Media seeks to thrive in this Caring Economy, and looks forward to seeing what your journey will look like as well.

Are you seeking to advance your career with a growing agency that practices CSR? View Our Careers


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