5 Tips for Developing Your CSR Strategy

Customers, employees, and investors are all interested in your corporate social responsibility efforts. Even Harvard Business Review includes social performance as a big criteria in their ranking of the 500 top CEOs. You know you have to do it, but where should you start?

The traditional approach is to add a community relations or CSR staff person, or maybe add it to the ever-growing list of things that HR is responsible for. Perhaps someone has suggested creating a corporate foundation, or hiring a consultant.

But before all that, it's important to identify exactly what you want to achieve with your CSR program. So here are 5 tips for developing your CSR strategy.

#1 Identify the Business Benefits

Rather than starting with a program and then trying to identify how it affects your business, identify the business benefits first. If you're clear what you want out of the process, it's much easier to track whether or not your CSR program is working.

Some examples of potential business benefits are:

  • Brand building: Do you want to align your brand with a particular group of customers?
  • Influencing stakeholders: Are there groups of people that you want to have a better relationship with? For example, investors or owners may want lower risk, customers may want ethically sourced components, and employees may want socially progressive benefits.
  • Differentiation:  Can you use CSR activities to get a leg up on the competition?

#2 Connect the CSR activity to the Business Benefit

Can you clearly identify the cause and effect between your CSR activity and the potential business benefit? If not, toss that idea out and start again.

There are an infinite number of programs that can have a positive environmental, social or governance benefit, but only a handful will make sense for your business at any given time. Non-strategic, ad hoc programs rarely produce any meaningful financial benefit to a company.

#3 Capture all of the required resources

Some CSR activities are simply more expensive than others. But just like in any aspect of your business, you can justify the expense by calculating the ROI. The trick is identifying the resources needed to successfully obtain the business benefit.

Assume you're considering expanding your maternity leave benefit to fathers and adoptive parents. Intuitively, you know that hiring and retraining affects productivity. But employees that are out on leave are also not very productive. While the costs and benefits might be tough to directly calculate, your intuition, coupled with basic data about current turnover and the number of young, married men you employ, can get you most of the way there.

#4 Invest in CSR that your stakeholders are interested in

Especially in small to mid-sized businesses, CSR can be limited to the activities that personally interest the owner-manager. While this makes sense (the owner-manager is an important stakeholder!), it doesn't scale well.

For strategic CSR to have the biggest effect, it should be meaningful to the stakeholders directly connected to your identified business benefit. In other words, if you want to use CSR for brand building, select CSR activities important to your target market.

#5 Ask your stakeholders to help design your CSR program

And the best way to determine what's important is to ask. Not only will this help you pick the right activity, but the process of soliciting feedback on potential CSR activities will increase stakeholder engagement.

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