I’m all for businesses engaging in corporate social responsibility, philanthropy, service, and any and all good for the world. But it was never smart to sell good deeds to businesses on the sole merits of being nice neighbors (that only works in houses of worship). The role of a for-profit corporation is to increase shareholder value, not to do acts of charity. Not surprisingly, companies are re-assessing their CSR approaches in light of today’s economy, as reported in "A stress test for good intentions."
Whether the good times roll, or times are lean, corporate social responsibility has to be good for business.
So how does a company build a CSR model that is good for business?
- Tie your CSR strategy to your company’s overall purpose and mission: Whether you sell professional services or consumer products, create a CSR program that advances your company’s purpose, helps your company develop your people – your most valuable assets, and also identifies you in the public eye with your services or products.
- For the greatest impact, integrate your philanthropy, human resources, and marketing strategies: Make your corporate contributions where employees volunteer (that reinforces team-building and loyalty to the company), where professionals provide management or technical assistance (fostering professional development), and where executives serve on nonprofit boards (that fosters leadership development). An integrated, strategic CSR approach that is aligned with the corporate mission and identity will increase your company’s impact in building stronger communities where your customers and employees live. The integrated approach will also help your company build valuable relationships (good for business development and also "crisis glue"), and establish a positive brand reputation for your business.
- Achieve multiple benefits with your green strategy: Improve the environment and cut costs by being greener. You will also attract and retain the best talent in today’s workforce by being environmentally conscious, and build your reputation as a company.
- Engage employees and customers in creating and implementing your plans: By involving employees in developing your green programs, you provide new opportunities and experiences for team-building and leadership development, while also paving the way to easy program implementation. American Express has taken the concept of "engagement" even further by partnering with a national nonprofit, and most creatively, involving the general public in online voting to help them choose where the foundation will make its funding contributions – a great way to develop public awareness of important community organizations while also building the company’s reputation and relationships. Note that this didn't cost more in philanthropic dollars....but the company achieved exponential benefits for itself and for the community by being smart in how they used their dollars.
- Partner with nonprofits that are experts: Conservation International recognizes its partnerships with Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s "to help them establish green benchmarks and embrace environmentally sound practices. These efforts enable them to reduce their impact on critical habitats and create economic opportunities for local communities that respect the need to use natural resources responsibly."
As President Clinton said to a group of us in Washington, D.C. last week, strong communities are good for business. Now we need to make sure that CSR strategies are as powerful and effective as possible in maximizing the win-win for businesses and the community. It's in all of our interests to achieve a greener, more prosperous, peaceful, and just world.