Defined by Investopedia as “a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable—to itself, its stakeholders, and the public,” CSR is officially here to stay. The importance of deeply embedding ethical and sustainable policy and practice into the fabric of our organisations is not likely to dwindle any time soon. From climate change to the deep inequality that has seen Covid-19 rendering low-income communities so much more vulnerable, businesses can play a pivotal role in helping to tackle these pressing social issues.
For many businesses struggling with the effects of 2020, a foray into CSR could feel like creating work for the sake of it: a ‘nice to have’, but something that can be put-off until the world has started to feel a bit more normal again. However, there are some crucial reasons why this isn't the right approach.
Employees are becoming more ‘woke’ than ever and want to see those in power go beyond lip service
First and foremost, employees care. According to a Nielsen Global Survey on CSR, 67% of people prefer to work for a socially responsible company. Given that Singaporeans spend an average of 45 hours per week at work, they want to give that time to an organisation whose values align with their own. Research by Corporate Citizenship also shows that 85% of Singapore companies agree their CSR programmes are helping them to build relationships with their employees through activities such as volunteering.
Employee volunteering as a form of CSR is familiar territory to most. We join forces with colleagues from finance and procurement once a year to hand out food to the homeless. It’s great for team bonding and gives us a nice feel-good buzz. We know it can be a helpful brand-building exercise and sometimes even garners some good PR. But is that really enough? Does an annual ‘giving back’ day really tick the valuable CSR box? In short, it depends what you want your CSR initiative to achieve.
Arguably, whilst helpful, a one-off volunteer day doesn’t produce the kind of impact that will drive sustainable change in the charity you’re trying to support.
With the right CSR strategy and a little more input, a business can develop charity partnerships that not only check the ‘feel-good’ boxes for their employees, but also those all-important but rarely checked boxes like ‘charity transformation’ and ‘creating a fairer society’.
Teach a charity organisation to fish, and they eat for a lifetime
In contrast to annual food drives which would be termed ‘service-based volunteering’, skills-based volunteering (SBV) sees employees volunteer their business expertise to a charity for a more sustained period of time. A good SBV project can see charities becoming more effective at developing their strategy, more efficient in the way they use their time, and their leaders more confident at communication and pitching.
The key to better CSR is alignment of values between business and beneficiary. Ensure that the partnerships you form are a necessary and vital part of who you are as a business. This ensures integrity and improves the likelihood of a sustained and mutually beneficial relationship.
Make sure that the services and skills that you are offering to your charity partners are things that they actually need in order to grow. If they are resource-poor, consider helping them to measure the impact of the work you’re proposing.
Making CSR work for your company
In addition to the benefits that skills-based volunteering brings to the charity, volunteers themselves see their business skills grow. Skills such as listening, coaching, leadership and building trust have all been cited as tangible benefits experienced by skills-based volunteers. These skills can be brought back into the office and actively improve an employee’s performance. It can also improve their retention rate.
A 2015 study by the Lewis Institute found that a company’s commitment to CSR can reduce staff turnover rate by up to 50%. In addition, with a more considered, more strategic form of CSR, productivity can increase by up to 13% and employee engagement can rise by 7.5%. This is CSR at its best.
Employees who truly care are the ones who will assure the success of a programme. Their dedication and drive to give more than their annual volunteer day will reap rewards for the charity, for themselves and ultimately for the business.
If this all sounds like rather a lot of work, that’s because it can be. But fear not, there are people who can help. B Corporations, or businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, legal accountability, and who have embedded ethical practice into their fabric, are shining examples to learn from.
There are also intermediary organisations who can take on the load of planning for the most effective CSR for your company, allowing your business to focus on critical operations whilst also becoming future-ready.
The future of CSR is a world where ethical practices are so embedded that businesses and charities work together in symbiosis; each uplifting and learning from the other in a way that allows the communities in which they operate to thrive. When the most vulnerable are able to rise, so does their ability to actively participate in society and also in our businesses. They will become our employees, our customers and our ambassadors. An excellent and sustainable CSR strategy then, is a win-win-win.
Tess Mackean is CEO of TalentTrust.