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Corporate Social Responsibility: A User’s Guide for Nonprofits

by | April 17, 2020

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a term thrown around a lot these days. While nonprofits base their organizations on clearly defined areas of social responsibility, they often miss out on using corporate social responsibility to help them fulfill their needs. How? By helping corporations form and execute their corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Today’s consumers and business owners are far savvier when it comes to the who’s and what’s behind the brands they choose to support. Without some form of corporate social responsibility, companies can lose out on opportunities to align themselves with nonprofits that suit their beliefs. This is not religious belief, but instead the things they consider important in the world, and all the aspects of the social, economic and environmental impacts each company has on society and our planet. It’s heavy stuff. However, many companies have CSR directly related to your values. Companies that define their values to reflect your own objectives become easier targets and the people who support your values and beliefs can become a valuable asset in your pursuit for corporate funding. Here we take a look at corporate social responsibility and how it impacts your success.

Corporate Social Responsibility: A Working Definition

CSR defines how an organization manages their social, economic, ethical and environmental concerns in all aspects of their operations. It allows an organization to minimize negative impact whether it is within its own community or the entire world. With a clearly defined CSR plan, an organization can keep in line with what the public expects which helps improve optics. Everything an organization touches and every action they take from operations to health and safety and human resources to how much paper and energy they use is considered important when it comes to corporate social responsibility.

What is The Purpose of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility leads to positive outcomes by improving brand identity. If you can provide a cause for organizations to support it allows consumers to have a more favorable perception based on an organization’s CSR. In turn, you increase the people you attract as volunteers, supporters and sponsors, which improves your optics in the community and eventually with higher-profile corporations who share your values. It becomes easier to resonate with people and corporations that can make or break you because you offer them a way to show they are more accountable, transparent and ethical.

CSR adds to an organization’s mission statement and speaks more clearly about their responsibility to their community. It goes beyond raising funds for a specific “cause” by adding the community, environment and important common social concerns to the list of causes that are important to their culture. The beauty of corporate social responsibility is that it also helps nonprofits build funding and credibility.

When organizations define their social responsibility, they become more accountable because their conduct becomes more transparent. This provides nonprofits with an opportunity to seek out like minded organizations who share the same concerns and show them how you can help them be more consistent in their message by aligning their company with your cause.

By choosing the right causes, organizations can make their programs more relevant and effective which in turn makes it easier for nonprofits to meet their own mission and goals. Your role is to show organizations how they can remain compliant with socially responsible mission statements, embracing new standards and ethics that align with their cause. Nonprofits can focus on discovering companies that share their ideals such as:

  • A commitment to reducing your environmental footprint
  • Support for ethically sound practices
  • Health and safety practices that protect volunteers, staff and the community
  • Commitment to equality in hiring and other ethical human resource practices
  • Alignment with brands who share your same socially responsible ethics and practices

Interestingly, corporate social responsibility also helps organizations increase cost savings. This is because they are suddenly keenly in tune with reporting metrics that keep them committed to their sustainability efforts. However, by being persistent and dedicated to socially responsible practices they also attract more prestigious talent because their social conscience meets the cultural needs of highly desirable hires. Organizations that share a commitment to worthwhile causes will see the practical results their social programs generate. Association with your nonprofit can provide organizations with an advantage over the competition that hasn’t invested in establishing clearly defined socially responsible efforts.

Why Corporate Social Responsibility Matters

CSR is the most direct way for an organization to demonstrate their values. It matters for nonprofits because you depend on the community and corporate donors/sponsors to function. If you want to attract the people you need to volunteer with your organization and the companies you rely on to raise funds for every aspect of your organization, you need to find partners that share and approve of your values. Without understanding CSR, you will lose out to other causes that have taken the time to align themselves with organizations who are looking for ways to improve their social behavior.

How you operate and the underlying philosophy you apply to each aspect of your operation must be based on a set of defined values in order to attract the right supporters. In fact, companies are very strategic about their philanthropic missions, while consumers are far savvier about the charities they support. They also demand more of the brands they choose. When you can demonstrate you understand the importance of aligning yourself with equally social responsible companies to support your cause, and also show you operate ethically and responsibly in all aspects of your organization, you raise your profile in the eyes of the public which will attract the dollars and time you need to support your cause.

As well, nonprofit organizations often overlook the importance of their ethical obligations even though they are perhaps even more accountable for their actions. After all, you are taking the time and money of your donors without a “tangible” product or service in exchange. How you conduct yourself, the activities you participate in and where that donated time and money goes must be managed with complete transparency. However, many nonprofits neglect to consider the importance of their own operations which can take away opportunities to find more support.  When you can successfully demonstrate your own ethics and define your mission, you can leverage your efforts to attract more desirable corporations, thought leaders, celebrities, political influencers, and more to champion your cause.

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How Can Corporate Social Responsibility Help Nonprofits?

More and more businesses, regardless of size, have the incentive to actively help make the communities in which they function better. One of the ways they can do this is to seek out nonprofits that share their views of social responsibility. This is a major incentive because companies understand the power consumers hold. If brands share the social and ethical views of their target customer, they can attract more customers by showing they have contributed to the world positively. When you share those values, you too attract that consumer, opening doors to attract the corporate sponsors who desire ways to connect with those consumers in more meaningful ways. What can be more meaningful than joining and/or supporting philanthropic projects with nonprofits that support causes important to their target audience?

The CSR initiatives for organizations are vital relationship builders with far-reaching influences that create a network of support for your cause. Therefore, when you seek out organizations that base their culture on socially responsible ethics and goals similar to your own, you increase your chances of attracting a higher quality, highly targeted circle of social donors making you the conduit that brings corporations and their customers together. That translates into major fund-raising opportunities for you.

The Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

Because corporate social responsibility reflects the values of an organization, it benefits them in many ways including:

Benefits to Employees

Attracting top talent is not always easy. However, more people are looking for careers that reflect their values and beliefs and allow them to feel they are doing the right thing. With a clear set of socially responsible values, organizations are more likely to attract the employees that matter and that will contribute to their success. When employees can identify with an organization, they in turn will feel a connection to their work and perform better. This leads to improved job commitment and retention. Less turnover allows organizations to remain more effective in their operations and focus on keeping people happy instead of constantly looking for new hires. Your nonprofit can contribute to a culture that has a positive impact on the community making it an attractive prospect in the recruiting process.

Benefits to Customers

Brands are becoming recognized for their social values. Those brands are the brands you need to support your cause. When an organization’s mission includes a commitment to being socially responsible, they can attract volunteers who share their values, which in turn attracts higher profile corporations seeking to connect with those consumers. An organization’s pro-social message highlights values and can attract the right customers who share concern over the same causes.

Benefits to Nonprofits

To demonstrate corporate social responsibility, organizations provide support to nonprofits like you. They align themselves with the causes that reflect their values which helps them increase their exposure. This is what people are looking for and an organization’s “brand” reputation will be all the stronger for it. An organization must not only show their commitment to and involvement in the community, but also choose values that support socially responsible deeds. These values must be well thought out across all aspects of the organization. Consumers look for causes that make them feel good and when organizations publicize their CSR initiatives, the word will spread they are committed to the community, causes such as yours and the planet. Your cause becomes a shared cause with those who share your social values.

Benefits to Human Resources

This goes beyond employees and instead focuses on ethics. Now more than ever, things such as inclusivity and equal opportunities for all employees speak volumes about an organization. HR departments can use socially responsible practices to attract not only top talent but also as an important part of their CSR strategy including:

  • A green practices policy
  • Fostering a socially responsible culture
  • Ethical HR policies based on equality and fair treatment in a non-threatening work environment

When a CSR strategy is established organizations can share your socially responsible values with employees and the community. As a result, they raise their profile as an ethically sound, more trustworthy organization.

Standing Out in The Marketplace

CSR allows organizations to stand out in the marketplace. It opens opportunities for those who take the time to define their social responsibility, because it becomes a highly effective marketing tool. However, CSR is only effective if the strategy is carried out across all aspects of the business. As well, to help companies stand out, they have to  provide proof CSR is in action. For nonprofits, social reporting allows organizations to leverage your successes while you can use your data to attract high profile brands and personal supporters. As a result, you can both do more good in the community and support your cause.

9 Types of Corporate Social Responsibility

So how can you help organizations incorporate socially responsible practices into their operations? Here are nine types of corporate social responsibility you can use to your advantage:

1. Green practices

Reducing carbon footprints is one of the easiest ways for an organization to boost their social responsibility. Some great initiatives you can assist with include:

  • A formal recycling program
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Reducing gas emissions by subsidizing transit passes for staff, arranging carpools, having a telecommuting option, teleconferencing for meetings, etc.
  • Buying supplies locally to reduce emissions for deliveries
  • Choosing sustainable materials
  • And more

 2. Ethical marketing

Ethical marketing ensures an organization is representing their social efforts in a manner that aligns with their core values. You always keep social and environmental considerations front and center in order to better connect with your audience in a way that resonates with them and their own values. You can assist your corporate partners with their marketing efforts to ensure they never stray from their beliefs and reflect their commitment to community, ethics and the environment. For example, you can look for signs a company is  “greenwashing” their organization by using environmental causes for the sake of sales. Show them how to change their messaging so it comes from a place of sincerity, how to backup what they advertise as important to them and how to avoid using an artificial manner to promote their business.

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3. Human Resources

Diversity and equality in the workplace in hand with labor policies that apply to all employees create a fair working environment. You can help promote ethical work environments by working with companies to:

  • Ensure everyone feels safe at work with clearly defined policies regarding sexual harassment and other forms of inappropriate behavior.
  • Have policies surrounding all employees being committed to fair treatment and respect for all fellow workers regardless of sexuality, culture, religion, etc.
  • Introduce a clearly defined protocol on how complaints and violations of HR policies are handled.
  • Have a positive culture that supports high morale and a productive environment.
  • Apply fair pay and promotion opportunities for each employee.

4. Volunteering

Although most organizations go for the wallet first, there are other ways they can support your community and charity. Volunteering is an excellent way to improve social responsibility. You can work with employers to find opportunities to share their team. Contributing time to assist with your community efforts such as cleanup programs, food drives, helping the homeless, etc. speak volumes for an organization’s commitment to humanity and the environment.

 5. Corporate philanthropy

Although you depend on corporate philanthropy to remain operational, you can also find ways to help organizations pay it forward. What else are you involved in that an organization can support? Supporting local school programs, sports teams, events, etc. are all ways organizations can enhance their corporate philanthropy efforts while also benefiting from free exposure in many cases.

 6. Socially responsible business practices

This can be a wide range of practices that encompasses any of the things on this list.

 7. Cause related marketing

Joining forces with a corporation to promote your cause, while increasing brand awareness/sales for your partner presents a win/win situation. When cause marketing is done well, it actually creates a win/win/win situation as your audience/supporters also gain from your combined efforts.

 8. Addressing social issues

You can provide a list of social issues relevant to your cause to help organizations with their CSR efforts such as:

  • Adopting a business code of ethics to address employee conduct
  • Creating a workplace health and safety program to prevent injuries or illness caused by workplace issues
  • Committing to environmental protection and sustainable practices wherever possible
  • Choosing suppliers and partners who share your social commitments
  • Working with other local charities
  • Using services, assets or products from companies through an in kind sponsorship program

 9. Supply chain

Supply chain management can be a tricky aspect of environmental responsibility. Organizations should choose the charities they work with carefully to ensure they are ethical and environmentally considerate while practicing human rights, occupational health and safety protocols and building community-centric relationships. You should be able to show potential corporate partners how you respect sound supply chain practices such as how you transport charitable items from your donors to the community.

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility in Action

So how are other organizations practicing social responsibility? Here are some of the standout examples we found: 

  • Environment: Johnson & Johnson have taken their commitment to the environment beyond what many other companies do with initiatives that encompass everything from wind power to providing safe water in the communities they touch. They focus on renewable energy and keeping their communities safe and healthy.
  • Supply Chain: You can imagine the massive size of the fleet of delivery trucks used by a company like Coca-Cola. They have invested in alternative fuel for their trucks in order to reduce their carbon footprint by at least 25%. Ford is also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by producing more cars with their EcoBoost engine.
  • Human Resources: Netflix is a perfect example of committing to their employees well-being offering an unheard of 52 weeks of parental leave in an industry that averages just 18 weeks for new parents.
  • Ethical Practices: Pfizer provides healthcare for women and children around the globe. They also offer drugs such as Prevenar 13 vaccines at greatly reduced prices for those in need as well as distributing drugs in emergency settings.
  • Philanthropy and Volunteering: Wells Fargo donates large sums of money to charities. They rose $286.5 million in 2017, alone which was shared with over 14,500 nonprofits. They also share support for the causes of employees by offering two paid days off for staff to participate in charitable volunteer work.
  • Social Issues: TOMs are strong anti-bullying advocates while also working alongside several non-governmental organizations and nonprofits to help demonstrate the importance of ethical behavior.

These are just a few examples of how the socially responsible behavior of an organization can be used to build your presence in the community whether it is locally or globally.

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How to Achieve Your Corporate Social Responsibility Goals

Your nonprofit must provide expertise your target sponsors/donors can leverage. In order to achieve this, you have to demonstrate how your cause can provide credibility to an organization’s corporate social responsibility plan so they can achieve their goals. When you share the same values as the brands you wish to partner with, you can effectively expand your sponsorship options. Your values, however, must also remain transparent and true to your own brand and cause otherwise it will be impossible to build and maintain credibility.

Both you and your corporate sponsors can expand reach by improving optics for your values, supporting like-minded social causes, and focusing on community betterment. You can achieve this by:

  • Mapping out your goals so you can effectively establish similarities between your cause and the CSR initiatives of possible partners.
  • Researching potential partners to better understand their philanthropic philosophy and activities to determine if you can help support their CSR initiatives.
  • Building a solid campaign proposal that can be customized to suit the needs of your ongoing events.
  • Tracking your success in audience engagement with outlines of your audience segments to provide relevancy to your potential partners.
  • Developing cross-promotional strategies you can sell to partners.
  • Outlining and understanding your organization’s strengths including your area(s) of expertise and how your expertise helps brands meet their goals.
  • Determining what companies and categories resonate with your stakeholders (donors, program recipients etc.)
  • Developing a mission statement and ethical guidelines to encourage corporate partnerships
  • Understanding and defining your audience
  • Developing your communications and marketing plan

Corporate social responsibility is an overlooked opportunity nonprofits can use to increase their reach. With a clearly defined set of values incorporated into your mission, you can make it easier for potential partners to improve their CSR strategies. Because CSR can take many different forms, you can look for opportunities to suit the size of your organization and work alongside the philanthropic efforts of your ideal partners.

By finding organizations with strong, transparent and sincere corporate social responsibility plans that align with your mission, you can build new partnerships, solicit community donations and build your army of volunteers with like-minded people who can help you achieve your goals.