Karen B. Moore is founder and CEO of Moore, a nationally ranked integrated communications and public affairs firm.
The impact of coronavirus, along with economic, social and political upheaval across the U.S., is ushering in a new era for corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR has been evolving over the last decade, but current events are bringing about rapid change and heightened consumer expectations. Audiences have long demanded that companies contribute to the greater good through their business practices and by leveraging their influence. As millions of Americans now face the everyday impacts of economic decline and uncertainty, many are looking to companies to foster solutions.
Recent calls for racial justice are further proof that CSR must be ingrained into every level of your business. Consumers and employees see through platitudes and hold companies accountable when their stated values and actions do not align. As a result, companies are listening and doing more than issuing statements by examining their hiring practices for diversity and inclusion.
The current climate also presents challenges as many businesses fight for survival, but CSR can be an important part of recovery. CSR can power profitability because people will appreciate and remember companies that stepped up to lead in 2020 and beyond. As CEO and founder of a company constantly improving its own CSR, I’ve found there are three important characteristics of a successful and impactful CSR business model.
Act as a problem-solver.
CSR in 2020 requires companies to think more broadly about their impact. We’ve all seen — and probably participated in — volunteer days when employees gathered to build a house or serve meals at a local shelter. These projects are wonderful, but CSR requires taking these efforts up a level and asking, for example, how we can have an even greater long-term impact on generational poverty, affordable housing and hunger.
For example, given that my company is headquartered near the zip code with the highest levels of poverty in our state, we’ve chosen to focus on fighting child hunger. We’ve delivered more than 20,000 meals in our own backyard and across the country. As financial and volunteer support continues, we will power a mobile food truck-style system to deliver free meals while recruiting like-minded businesses and organizations to partner with us.
CSR can’t be about checking a box. Audiences are raising the bar in what they expect from corporations, and they should. Businesses have the expertise and resources needed to create meaningful change.
Be authentic and transparent.
Now is the time to turn inward and examine your brand and values and their alignment with CSR. Remember: A brand is not a logo or an identity, but rather, a gut feeling that someone has about you. If your brand and CSR are not in alignment, you run the risk of alienating audiences and undermining brand trust. CSR must be aligned to your mission and vision and ultimately embedded in your DNA.
A recent study defined authenticity as “recognizing and believing that an act is derived from sincerely caring for others, rather than deriving from duty or responsibility.” Consumers are doing their research and looking for companies that walk the talk. It is important to consumers that they support businesses that reflect their own values.
Many large companies create CSR and sustainability reports, and more investors are using this information to direct their investment strategies. Companies must dedicate themselves to CSR and measure and report their efforts to build trust with customers, clients, investors and the public. It is not about supporting a specific event or program, but using the time, talent and treasure to achieve systemic positive change.
Encourage employee-led engagement.
Many organizations state their dedication to a culture that values and empowers employees. Your employees, then, must be an important part of CSR. I recommend regularly polling employees to identify issues that are important to them and examining which of those issues align with corporate values and opportunities to have significant impact.
Businesses can build trust with employees, particularly millennials and Generation Z, through CSR. Younger employees remain suspicious businesses’ statements about making a positive impact on society, according to findings published in the Deloitte Global Millennial Survey 2019. Nevertheless, employees want to work for companies that take a stance on important issues. This, of course, means that CSR is a valuable recruitment tool. Employees want you to give them opportunities to make a difference, not only for the company, but for communities.
As CSR continues to evolve, we’re seeing consumers demand more action, authenticity, transparency and measurable impact. This year, with all of the challenges it presents, gives businesses like yours the opportunity to step forward with solutions that make a tangible difference for people who are struggling.
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Author: Karen B. Moore, Forbes Councils Member