• Alexandra Barrera

Want to implement a genuine CSR strategy? Start with transparency.

When it comes to corporate social responsibility, the stakes are higher than ever.


Most organizations would agree on the importance of presenting yourself to the public positively. Investing in environmental, human rights, and other socially conscious initiatives is certainly one great way to accomplish that.


But CSR cannot be just a footer on your annual planning, especially when consumers are unafraid to divert their investments from businesses not committed to long-term social good.


Leaders need to think beyond what their business does externally and focus more on how they do it.


In this post, I share a few tips I learned along my path of leading social impact initiatives to help evaluate your company's potential for impact, and whether your efforts might be coming off as disingenuous.

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Begin internally

One of the biggest mistakes I see with businesses who want to improve their CSR strategy is forgetting that impact begins inside the organization.


When I review a company’s corporate social impact strategy, I make it a point to sit in on every conversation, with every stakeholder and every employee, that I can.


Social impact is not a one-size-fits-all or singular departmental initiative. It is an organizational value system that must be embedded throughout the business. If there’s a team wanting to make a greater impact but doesn’t have a leader or manager advocating for those opportunities, that affects the entire organization.


My advice is to make yourself a part of every conversation. Aim to truly understand where the desire and opportunities for impact exist within your organization.


Use these conversations to conduct an internal assessment of your impact strategy—and company values.


Authenticity and a transparency-first model

Why is social impact is important to you and this business? This is the first question to ask yourself when launching CSR initiatives.


In 2018, Fortune Global 500 firms spent approximately $20 billion a year on CSR activities. But, researchers have found that if employees think their company is only engaging with CSR to benefit directly from it, they react negatively and put in less effort.


If your CSR strategy exists only for the bottom line, it probably won't work.


If you’re thinking about launching a diversity or sustainability-focused social media campaign, you need to consider whether you discuss these issues internally.

If you present certain issues to the public, but you don’t necessarily talk about them within your business, that’s a big red flag for a lot of consumers and employees.


Consumers want to know how you engage with real issues in your boardrooms and during your team meetings, and they will do their research on you.


Take time to reflect on your business mission and values. Chances are, your business directly relates to issues facing society today. What steps are you taking as an organization to address local and global challenges?


Take actionable steps that are relevant to your industry

Maybe you already invest in philanthropic efforts. But consumers want to know that you are willing to do more than write a check at the end of the year. Some of the largest organizations today have created entire foundations supporting local and global issues, elevating their philanthropic efforts towards creating sustainable, long-lasting change.


One example is Richard Branson, a leader who insists that companies take on the responsibility of solving society’s problems. A passionate proponent of renewable energy, he founded an anti-carbon nonprofit that works on climate change solutions. This CSR solution directly applied to his specific industry, making his efforts both impactful and relevant.


By being a role model for other companies and your employees, you show folks that you feel responsible towards our planet and its citizens.


Always be committed to continuous improvement

During your internal assessment, if you find that some leaders do not align with your values, consider hiring new managers who will be mutually invested in your goals and committed to impact. When there are plenty of organizations with social missions embedded into their values, you cannot afford to keep a leader who doesn’t show commitment to driving change.


Within your organization, make sure you offer your employees resources and opportunities to be involved in issues that matter most to them. Invest in your volunteer and ERG networks, if you have them. If you don't, create them now. Show your employees genuine, tangible evidence that you care about social impact beyond the bottom line.


If you’re looking to evaluate your internal impact, consider:

  • How does your organization react when social issues are brought to the forefront?

  • Do you invest in your employees and offer resources to engage with CSR initiatives?

  • Do you publish a transparent CSR or impact report that includes future areas for growth?

  • How do your current and past employees rate your company culture on sites like Glassdoor?


And most importantly, be honest about the growth required to take your business to a greater level of impact.


Being committed to social impact is not just about maintaining good PR; it requires showing up authentically and transparently for all the people your business impacts—your consumers, stakeholders, and internal employees.


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