Corporate Social Responsibility and Success

May 8, 2012
By Michelle Lowery in Online Marketing

When you created your business plan, you took into account things like a marketing plan, financial data, licenses, employee salaries, insurance, and a social media policy. But did you think about corporate social responsibility (CSR)? If not, it may be time to rethink your business strategy. And if you think you don’t have time to volunteer, contribute to charity, or do something meaningful for your customers because you’re too busy running your business, well, you may want to rethink that attitude because CSR can increase your bottom line. Not only that, it can help you attract and retain valuable employees.

Conventional wisdom says profitability is increased primarily through growth of your business. The reality is, the more fervently you pursue that profit, the more it will elude you. I’m not saying you should just kick back, relax, and let the business take care of itself. Any business requires hard work, discipline, and persistence. But the main method by which your business earns money is attracting customers, and to put it plainly, customers don’t like brands they perceive to be greedy and self-serving.

Part of the reason the BP oil spill was such a PR disaster wasn’t just because of the deaths and environmental damage that resulted from the accident, or the illness and deaths that continue to occur even today. It came down to the reason the accident happened in the first place—the company was disregarding safety rules in order to cut corners, and increase profit.

Most companies don’t have to worry about catastrophic environmental disasters, but they do still have to be concerned with how their customers—and potential customers—perceive them.

Show Your Customers You Value Them

The Havas Media Lab conducted a study, surveying 50,000 people in 14 countries and asking them to identify the companies they felt had the most meaningful CSR. Havas Media then used the results of that study to create The Meaningful Brand Index (MBi). The MBi “uses consumer perception to compare and track the impact brands have on our lives.”

The study found a direct correlation between brands’ MBi scores, and how attached consumers are to those brands, showing that “20% of brands have a notable positive impact on our sense of well-being and quality of life,” and that “most people would not care if 70% of brands ceased to exist.” How do your customers feel about you and your brand? Would they care if you ceased to exist tomorrow?

The thing to remember is that not all brands accomplish CSR through volunteering or donating to charity. In some cases, their efforts have a more direct effect on consumers. Umair Haque, Director of the Media Lab, cited Nike+ as a good example. It’s not about their charity work, it’s because the campaign “actually helps make you a better runner.”

If you feel a company is making an effort to do something for you above and beyond just selling you a product, you’re more likely to become and remain loyal to that company. The same is true of your customers. What have you done for them lately?

Demonstrate Your Values With Your Clients

You also have the option of taking it a step further, and getting your clients involved in your CSR efforts. A lot of companies show their appreciation to their clients each holiday season by sending gift baskets or inviting them to company holiday parties. There’s nothing wrong with that, but SEER Interactive uses that time as an opportunity to truly share good will by giving their clients $100 gift cards through JustGive. Clients can then use the site to choose a charity to receive that gift card.

Wil Reynolds said, “The biggest by product that has come out of this (that I never expected) is finding out more about our clients, not as ‘clients’ but as people.” I would wager that this practice also allows SEER’s clients to see the agency’s employees not just as “consultants,” but people as well, creating a deeper relationship with more at its base than mutual profit.

At Outspoken Media, we combined both practices. We invited clients, colleagues, and members of the local community to our company holiday party, and we asked everyone who attended to bring canned goods or gift cards that we could donate to a local food pantry. We were really glad to see several people bring donations, but the best part was the looks on the food pantry employees’ faces when they came to pick up the donations. Being part of a coordinated effort to help people in need was really gratifying for all of us.

You can tell your clients you’re interested in helping them, or you can show them how you actually help others. It’s up to you.

Strengthen Your Team Through Volunteerism

Last fall, the Outspoken Media team volunteered at a local community center. Unity House serves as a food pantry, a low-cost clothing reseller, and a community resource for jobs and education, among other things. At the time, they were collecting school supplies for underprivileged kids, and we were happy to oblige.

In addition to donating several backpacks filled with school supplies, we decided to spend a few hours at Unity House helping them with an event they were hosting. We made copies, distributed raffle tickets, and helped organize items in their store. By themselves, those may be pretty small things. But the fact that we were all there together, united to accomplish a common goal, went a long way to bring our team together in a way we hadn’t been before.

We’ve since expanded that volunteerism spirit by identifying causes that are important to each of us individually. For example, Rhea is very supportive of the environment (she takes all our recycling home with her to dispose of it properly) and fetal alcohol awareness, while I am an animal shelter volunteer and advocate of animals—pit bulls in particular. By sharing causes that are close to our hearts, we’re learning more about each other. By getting involved to support each other’s causes, we’re also gaining deeper respect for each other, and becoming a more close-knit team.

More than that, while we’re already productive members of the local economy, we’re also working to become a company that cares about and is involved in our local community. This means a lot to us because it gives us a sense of having a higher purpose. We’re not just coming to work every day, sitting in front of our computers, and then going home. We’re trying to make a difference in every way we can. Anyone can write a check. Monetary donations are good, and are always needed. But getting out there together, getting your hands dirty, and having experiences to share and talk about later are the things team-building is made of.

One caveat—avoid pushing your cause on the rest of the team. Employees may be loath to argue with the boss, and no one wants to end up running a 10K for something they’re not really passionate about. (I don’t even want to run a 10K for the causes I am passionate about!) Make sure your conversations about volunteering take everyone’s opinions into account, and never make participation mandatory.

What we’ve done at Outspoken Media is, in addition to identifying our personal causes, we’ve chosen a couple to support as a company. One is Unity House, as I mentioned earlier, and the other is Vanderheyden Hall, a residential treatment facility for adolescents.

When supporting causes or attending charity events as a team, try to limit yourselves to the ones that really matter to you, especially if you’re going to use your networks to gain support—and donations. You don’t want to wear out your welcome by asking for money every month for some new cause or charity event. Stick to the ones that are really important to you, be consistent, and people will be more willing to support you.

Attract and Retain Valuable Employees With Volunteerism

Getting your company involved in volunteer opportunities can not only improve morale for, and retain your current team, it can help you attract high-quality employees as well.

The 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey showed a direct correlation between volunteer efforts and employee satisfaction. Focusing on millennials, the survey concluded that 52% of those who take part in their company’s volunteer and charity activities are more likely to feel very loyal toward their company. It also showed that 51% of participants are more likely to be very satisfied with their employer. Here’s a snapshot of all the results:

Volunteerism and Employee Engagement

Image courtesy Deloitte Development LLC

Along with health benefits, retirement plans, and other perks, the opportunity to volunteer and give back to the community can be a strong selling point for your company. Making this a prominent part of your culture can also help you attract people who will fit in well with your current employees, and who share your team’s values. It’s much easier to hold onto employees than it is to hire and train new ones. Including volunteer efforts in your business strategy is one sure way to keep employees happy, and morale high.

Social Hacks for Finding Volunteer Opportunities

Whether you’re looking for local volunteer opportunities, or you want to find others in your area who share your enthusiasm for certain causes, you can use social media and the Internet to connect with causes and the people who support them.

Simple Twitter Search: The quickest and easiest way to search Twitter for causes is to click #Discover > Browse categories. This will take you to a page where you can enter search terms like “non-profit” or “animal shelter.” You’ll find accounts to follow, and people to talk to about your mutual causes.

Advanced Twitter Search: You can find the same information as a simple Twitter search, with the addition of location by using Twitter’s Advanced Search page. Enter your search term, enter a location, and then select a distance to search, and you can find charities, volunteer opportunities, and cause supporters near you.

Facebook Searches: A couple of years ago, Facebook had a really good advanced search function that it has since done away with. You can still search Facebook by simply typing your search term in the Search box at the top of any page. A dropdown box will open up with the top five results. At the bottom of that box, click “See more results for [search term],” and then you can filter your results by People, Pages, Places, and other options in the left sidebar.

LinkedIn: The LinkedIn search box has a dropdown that allows you to choose options such as People, Companies, and Groups. Once you’ve entered a term, a left sidebar will appear that gives you the additional option of location, among other options.

followerwonk: From the home page, select “Search Twitter Bios.” Under “Search bios for,” click “more options.” This will let also let you search by location, along with several other search parameters.

VolunteerMatch: You can do a quick search to find volunteer opportunities near you, but if you register, the site will send you regular updates when those opportunities become available. A couple of us here at Outspoken Media have tried this site and weren’t too thrilled with it, but it’s an option available to you. Maybe it will work better for you. If so, tell us about it!

Kiva: You may not always have the time to go out and take part in an volunteer event, but you can still help others. Kiva allows you to make micro-loans to low-income people around the world. They pay the loans back in the established time frame. Once the transaction is complete, you can either withdraw your money, or loan it again, creating a never-ending circle of financial support for those who don’t have access to traditional banking services. Learn more about how microfinance works, and get involved!

So how ’bout it? What are you and your company doing to improve the lives of your customers, clients, employees, and community members? Share your corporate social responsibility success stories with us!

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