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Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility with Business Goals

October 29, 2021

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a buzzword recently, with organizations of all sizes seeking to make a larger impact on their communities and provide a better environment for their employees. But what exactly is CSR? CSR is an evolving business practice that incorporates sustainable development into a company’s business model. It has a positive impact on social, economic, and environmental factors. Not only does it position companies as being more socially conscious, which can have a strong branding impact, but it reminds employees that they are working for an organization that is concerned with more than just being profitable.

Improving the Bottom Line

According to a Harvard Business Review global survey of 474 executives, those who treat purpose as a core driver of strategy and decision-making “reported a greater ability to deliver revenue growth and drive successful innovation and ongoing transformation.” In fact, “53 percent of executives who said their company has a strong sense of purpose said their organization is successful with innovation and transformation efforts.”

Looking externally at businesses, a 2017 Cone Communications CSR study found that:

  • More than 60 percent of Americans hope businesses will drive social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the consumers surveyed said they would purchase a product because a company supported an issue they care about.
  • Roughly 75 percent will refuse to buy from a company if they learn it supports an issue contrary to their own beliefs.

Looking internally, according to The Deloitte Global 2021 Millennial and Gen Z Survey, loyalty from employees to their employers has dipped for these groups, as skepticism of employer goals has increased. More millennials and Gen Zs would, if given the opportunity, welcome an employer change within two years (36 percent and 53 percent respectively, compared to 31 percent and 50 percent in 2020). Accordingly, seven in 10 millennials feel that businesses focus on their own agendas rather than considering the wider society.

A purposeful CSR strategy can not only retain more and better employees, but it can also earn organizations more business.

Solving the CSR Gap

Josh Bersin, the founder of Bersin by Deloitte (a provider of research and advisory services focused on corporate learning), says businesses need to think of themselves as a “social system” not just a “company” to get people more engaged at work, drive innovation, and focus on the issues that will speak to employees of all generations: fairness, transparency, inclusion, and sustainability. He notes that CEOs must think hard about their company’s products, services, and people strategies, boldly asking, “Would they be proud to see their decisions on the front page of the newspaper?”

In fact, Glassdoor’s Mission and Culture Survey 2019 found that over 77 percent of adults across four countries (the United States, UK, France, Germany) would consider a company’s culture before applying for a job there, and 79 percent would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying.

A company’s culture can tell employees, partners, and customers all they need to know about whether they’d like to work for or with the company. For those who are ready to craft a formal CSR strategy, the first step is to determine what issues relate to their core business.

Current CSR Leaders

Many organizations have successfully implemented a CSR strategy, bridging the gap from their products and services to the passions of their employees. Here are a few examples of several types of CSR strategies in action.

      1. Tom’s Buy One Give One. Although this effort is no longer in effect, Tom’s shoes was one of the original creators of this model, where a consumer buys a product, such as shoes, and the business gives the same item to underserved or disadvantaged people. This is a great approach when addressing a need that can be solved by a specific item such as shoes, glasses, gloves and scarves, etc, but not so well for organizations who want to address a more complex problem that can’t be solved with a 1:1 purchase like homelessness.
      2. Patagonia’s Action Works. Patagonia has given nearly $90 million in support of activism and advocacy. In addition, their products are manufactured to minimize their environmental impact. This dual-pronged approach places them in a leadership role among advocacy-based businesses. Their website notes key areas of grants they support like biodiversity, climate, communities, land, and water. It allows users to enter their zip code to see how they can join the cause in their own communities.
      3. Cornbread Hustle. This staffing agency advocates for second chances and recovery. They teach entrepreneurial skills to help people become better employees, find meaningful employment, or start a business. The agency also serves as a resource for socially conscious employers looking for skilled workers. This model is a direct reflection of the founder’s personal life, as she wanted to create a company to help others begin anew as she did. Their model is designed to improve society by opening doors and creating opportunities for employees that have experienced traumatizing hardships.

Risky Business

Companies need to be careful to make sure their CSR strategies really reflect their company behavior or they can find themselves in hot water. In Australia, Commonwealth Bank (CBA) repositioned itself in 2015 as “the ethical bank” following a scandal in its financial planning arm. Shareholders heard that the bank viewed strong ethics as “an ultimate competitive advantage” and was working with The Ethics Centre, a non-profit organization designed to provide independent and ethical reviews for organizations and other entities, to strengthen its values. Unfortunately, a string of bigger scandals soon followed: Commonwealth Bank’s insurance arm CommInsure was charged with “hawking” for trying to sell insurance products through unsolicited phone calls; CBA has admitted it contravened the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act) on 53,750 occasions; and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) accused Commonwealth Bank (CBA) of receiving Aus$22 million ($15 million) in prohibited payments from a subsidiary to promote its retirement fund to customers, which severely compromised its positioning.

Suffice to say, determining what CSR strategy a business should pursue can be tricky. It must truly reflect the business and its goals, while having importance to the owners and employees. Both employees and clients are showing that it’s important for them to interact with businesses who give back to the community.

Developing the CSR Strategy

The broader categories most CSR strategies fall into are environmental efforts, philanthropy, ethical labor practices, and volunteering. Whatever businesses decide, they should make sure to give their employees a voice in their plan. A CSR is only as good as the team who makes it work. Consideration should be given to developing an internal team to spearhead efforts for organization, branding, and managing any projects. Also important is for CSR efforts to be related to a brand’s mission, and not just a PR play. Remember that giving back isn’t something businesses are required to do, but it should be something they want to do.

WBD employees participating in National Wreaths Across America. Arlington Cemetery, VA 2019.

Here at WBD, our CSR strategy is always evolving with an objective of aligning the desires of our employees with the experiences of our customers. After a recent questionnaire with employees, two top Corporate Social Responsibility goals have taken form:

  1. Demonstrating care for our employees and our customer base, through a culture that reflects our talents and our capabilities.
  2. Identifying ways to benefit society and leave it better than we found it.

WBD employee quotes:

“Being an employer of talent that serves our government increases the [corporate social] responsibility in my mind.”

“I want everyone that encounters the company to “feel” our commitment, because we truly embrace and live the talk.”

“It’s all about that word — development — and ensuring that we are helping create circumstances that are better than what preceded them.”

WBD is committed to giving back to the community. Each year, we ask our employees to make a difference through volunteer work and other actions that betters our society. Our goal is to make sure that each employee is aware of how their actions can impact those around us. We are proud to directly support Veterans Organizations (as an SDVOSB) and General Aid organizations like Wreaths Across America, Direct Relief, the American Red Cross, Toys for Tots, and Local Food Banks.


Author: Jessica Lewis, Lead Consultant at WBD, is a CRM and strategy professional engaged with the firm’s Private Sector Engagement Support award with the United States Agency for International Development.

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