Corporate Social Responsibility: What Is It & How to Develop Your Program

Andre Oentoro

More than ever, businesses are being held accountable by their customers, employees, and stakeholders. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) means they’re having to be more conscious about their impact on the world.

That means focusing on all forms of local and global impact, from environmental to social and economic. CSR results in brands operating in diverse ways that positively affect society. As today’s climate is increasingly competitive, a CSR program allows businesses to stand out.

Using storytelling alongside consumer and stakeholder feedback, any company can become a leader in its field.

Put simply, a socially responsible business is a better business.

Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is all the rage right now. Essentially, it’s when companies introduce policies and use their business acumen to positively affect the world we live in. It’s fast becoming one of the most popular ways to grow profits.

From reducing environmental impact through greener business management to widening the hiring pool via inclusive recruitment practices, CSR programs are making businesses stronger, more visible, and more proactive.

The Pros and Cons of Corporate Social Responsibility

A robust CSR program allows brands to demonstrate their ethical values, commitment to people, and approach to local and global communities.

There are clear pros and cons to the introduction of a new CSR program, with upsides including:

  • Profitability. More than ever, consumers want to buy from brands that align with their values. With the right CSR program, businesses can attract entirely new demographics, growing their audience in often unexpected directions.
  • Cost-saving. Some elements of a CSR program save money. Most environmentally-focused programs don’t just reduce waste but business costs too.
  • Reputation management. A brand’s reputation is its lifeblood. A poor reputation will affect the future of a business negatively, while the opposite is true of a positive one. Luckily, like social proof marketing, CSR can positively shape customer perceptions. When brand reputation is tied so closely to profits, a CSR program is simply good business management.
  • Better hiring. With a proactive CSR program in place, job seekers will be more inclined to apply for vacancies. More than the latest marketing or hiring strategies or premium commercial phone systems, a visible CSR program will attract the best people to work for you.
  • More agility. The world changes quickly, especially for businesses. A CSR program requires that you make sure there’s someone dedicated to staying alert to these changes. This makes brands more responsive and quick to adapt to social changes or global disruption.

Brands with a strong CSR program are better equipped in almost every way to take on the challenges of modern business management. Like the hackathons being used for corporate innovation, corporate social responsibility programs are a trend for a reason.

However, there are certain risks attached, such as:

  • Set-up costs. It takes time and money to establish a CSR program. For small businesses in particular, this can seem like an unnecessary expense. It’s still possible even with a small budget (thanks to social media and a strong video distribution strategy), but it does require someone to tackle the tasks of the program when they could be working elsewhere.
  • Reduced profits. There’s also the potential for a CSR program to negatively affect profits. For example, an environmental policy might mean increased waste management costs. Equally, a more inclusive recruitment policy might yield long-term advantages but also increase hiring time, extend the hiring process, and slow down vacancy placement, all of which cost time and money.
  • Greenwashing. One of the most commonly cited risks of a CSR program is not putting your money where your mouth is. It’s all well and good to say you're environmentally responsible, but consumers will quickly spot when you're not. Similarly, a brand that claims to treat consumer data responsibly needs to know the difference between first-party and zero-party data, because their customers certainly will.

Everyone is affected by the behaviors of the business world, now more than ever. For brands to move beyond weakly declared intentions and into more effective and observable socially responsible approaches, a CSR program is a must.

While the scope of these programs may differ, entrepreneurs and successful brand owners must learn how to develop them in-house. We take a look at how to do that below.

How to Develop a Corporate Social Responsibility Program

Every business has unique characteristics and circumstances. That means there’s no magic formula to develop a CSR program. However, the process can be broken down into seven clear stages.

1. Carry out a CSR assessment

Knowing where you're starting from is the first step. Just as you must understand what a VoIP fixed number example is before installing this type of system, no CSR program can move forward without pinpointing where you stand and what it will mean for your company.

This requires you to:

  • Have clearly defined business values and ethics.
  • Be able to highlight your reasons for implementing a CSR program.
  • Identify the CSR issues that reflect your brand’s values and affect (or may affect) the future of your company.
  • Be aware of any existing CSR initiatives.
  • Recognize the budget implications.
  • Provide risk identification, solutions, and opportunities.

This step enables your company to view its operations from a CSR perspective.

2. Develop your CSR strategy

Using the insights gained from your assessment, it’s time to plan your CSR program. There are some simple ways to start this process.

  • Get the support of the CEO and stakeholders (including employees).
  • Research what other companies are doing, including those that aren’t competitors or in your sector.
  • Identify key CSR actions and their business value.
  • Create a timeline for your CSR actions.

The longer you spend on this strategy proposal, the more insights you will gain. Take the time to get it right.

3. Develop your CSR actions

The commitments you make will form the visible side of your CSR program. Each action must align with your brand’s ethics and values, so you need to finetune the initiatives you're going to implement.

Some common CSR initiatives include:

  • Reduction of your carbon footprint. From better waste management to reducing communication waste, there are plenty of options to consider. Simple approaches, like learning more about the VoIP meaning so you’re less reliant on hardware infrastructure, go a long way.
  • Increased charity work.
  • Switching to fair-trade products.
  • Making the supply chain more transparent.
  • Introducing improved labor policies.

Take the time to identify initiatives that reflect your brand values and have real-world benefits for your company.

4. Launch your CSR initiatives

Once everything is in place, it’s a matter of living up to the promises of your CSR commitments. Those commitments must be met. If you fail to follow through, this can lead to frustrated employees and a negative reputation developing.

Make sure everything is in place before you launch your CSR program, and you’ll be much more likely to successfully implement your commitments.

5. Go public

Up until now, everything you've done to create your CSR program has been behind the scenes. Once everything is up and running, it's time to let people outside of the business know. CSR actions only have positive repercussions among your audience if they’re publicized and made transparent.

Have a page on your website dedicated to your CSR actions, and use them as content for your email marketing, Facebook and Instagram video content, and company blog posts. Also, take the time to consider individuals and organizations who’d be interested in knowing about your CSR initiatives.

Tailor your communications to your audience, and let it be loudly known that your CSR program is up and running.

6. Measure and manage progress

Look back at your initial planning, and ensure your goals are being met. Look at how the CSR changes you’ve made have positively (or negatively) affected brand reputation, sales, and talent recruitment.

It’s easier to manage the impact of your program and its success if it’s being measured. The more insights you can garner into how well your CSR program is working, the more you can learn from and improve it.

7. Report and evaluate

Create and publish a report looking at what’s worked well and where you’ve fallen short. Identify what you’ve learned and how improvements can be made moving forward. At this stage, ensure internal teams are informed about the successes of the program through large-scale meetings or interactive videos.

Maintain this momentum and start thinking about new CSR objectives and priorities. Don’t forget to celebrate when you’ve achieved something positive. The hard work has been done, even though the management of your CSR program will need ongoing monitoring and assessment if it’s to stay relevant and useful.

Corporate Social Responsibility: A New Paradigm

Don’t look at CSR as something that reflects your current business model; instead, when deciding on initiatives, consider how you want your brand to be viewed a decade from now. Don’t be afraid to make changes even if they mean a radical new approach to the way you operate. Consider the risks of the future, and solve them today by taking a proactive approach.

CSR requires buy-in at every level of your business. With a management team that doesn’t participate, a CSR program is doomed to failure. The cost of these failures can negatively affect corporate citizenship, leading to long-term consequences for your business.

Build your CSR program in the right way and for the right reasons. As consumers and job seekers become ever more selective about the brands they engage with, a strong CSR program is not only more important than ever but could be the key to increasing profits, hiring the brightest talent, and amping up business growth.

Bio:

John Allen - Director, SEO, 8x8

John Allen is the Director of SEO for 8x8, a leading communication platform that specializes in remote working technology with integrated contact center, voice, video, and chat functionality. John is a marketing professional with over 14 years of experience in the field, and an extensive background in building and optimizing digital marketing programs across SEM, SEO, and a myriad of services. This is his LinkedIn.

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Andre Oentoro is the founder of Breadnbeyond, an award winning explainer video company. He helps businesses increase conversion rates, close more sales, and get positive ROI from explainer videos (in that order).

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