It’s finally 2021! And with the new year, there is hope for new beginnings. But we can also carry forward some of the incredible learnings of the past year. Things like seeing big brands take a stand for social and racial justice, companies quickly shifting giving programs to meet critical community needs, and individuals and families giving back and coming together in big and small ways. These shifts will have a lasting impact on the future of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) moving forward.
But many companies found the scramble of 2020 exposing big disconnects in their CSR programs. The need to address how to effectively match a business’ core function with concrete actions, practices and investments – as well as how to use these to address social issues in a way the public found authentic and meaningful – became challenging.
As we leap into the new year, now it a great time to revisit your overall CSR plan, paying special attention to partnerships and employee engagement programs. Following are a few recommendations to consider:
Your CSR Plan Should Add Value
At the B:CIVIC Summit last fall, I joined a session to hear from Derrick Feldman, author of “The Corporate Social Mind.” He mentioned that the CSR journey requires a particular mindset for success. This means making decisions by thinking of others and, more importantly, thinking about how you are adding value. “If you are not adding value, then scrap it,” he said. This advice is a great lens for 2021 planning. Here are a few big picture questions to consider:
- Are you being mindful of what you measure in your Community Impact Report? Does your report’s content align with stakeholder values and needs? Does it show how you are matching core functions with concrete actions, practices and investments?
- Are you using your CSR programs to address challenges in an authentic and meaningful way? If so, are you using these to create ongoing storytelling opportunities for your key audiences?
- How are you addressing sustainability in your CSR program? Keep in mind that sustainability can mean different things in different contexts. Is it simply a continuity of services – the ability to carry on a program’s services through funding and resources shifts or losses? Or is it a way to institutionalize services; adapt to constant changes in technology, policies, and funding streams; create a legacy; and/or share positive outcomes to get local buy-in and provide high-quality services?
Time for a Partnership Makeover?
Many businesses shifted dollars during the pandemic to help quickly address critical community needs like food insecurity or PPE for frontline workers. This may have opened up new priorities and partnerships to consider for building a better partnership model. Following are a few questions to talk through:
- Are you selecting your nonprofit partners based on the needs of the community, reaching and connecting with consumers, or engaging/recruiting employees?
- Are the programs/services you support scalable/sustainable?
- Are you challenging your partners to think creatively? Are they consistently bringing you fresh ideas?
- Are you utilizing a cause partnership model?
Prioritize Employees as Critical Stakeholders
2020 has changed the way we work. We know that virtual isn’t going away. Engaging employees will continue to be critical to success in the coming months. Here are a few questions to ask:
- How are you creating meaningful experiences for employees by going beyond one-day volunteer events, building into the values and culture of your company?
- Can you rethink the structure for your employee giving – time, talents and treasure?
- Can you broaden the circle by engaging contract employees and vendors/partners in joint volunteer activities, online promotions, and milestone celebrations?
Companies that have resilience and agility will reshape their CSR strategy to thrive in 2021. Now is the time to make decisions and take actions with recovery in mind. And if something isn’t adding value, “scrap it.”
Amy Moynihan is a Senior Director of Communications at GroundFloor Media, where she leads the firm’s CSR communications service line. With more than 20 years of experience, Amy is a creative thinker, enjoys finding and telling compelling stories and has a passion for building long-term brand engagement programs for clients.