From delivering checks to local food banks at the holidays to backing startup schools in far-flung locations, charitable giving has its place in business culture. It’s far from being the most impactful type of corporate social responsibility initiative, though.
This isn’t suggesting that donating money and resources is somehow invaluable. It’s critical and expected. By 2015, 92% of the world’s biggest companies had begun issuing CSR reports. And by 2018, economic estimates of yearly CSR activity hovered around the $20 billion mark. This is hardly a bad thing — but these efforts are more akin to sponsorship marketing than they should be.
As people begin to expect more out of their preferred brands, they’ll naturally turn to CSR initiatives as a key differentiation. Which companies are going the extra mile? And is what they do dovetailing with the nonprofits they support?
A Nonprofit for Every For-Profit
Not surprisingly, some bigger players have already figured out that they need to pull CSR into everything they do.
Google’s CEO is a vocal supporter of diversity, and the company has led the globe in innovative ways to be better stewards of natural resources. Similarly, Coca-Cola has invested in special vehicles to reduce its carbon footprint by 25% by 2020. Starbucks has issued its own pledge to hire 10,000 refugees by 2022 and 25,000 veterans by 2025. And Zappos went for the emotional strike when it linked up with Best Friends Animal Society to encourage free pet adoptions during the Thanksgiving season.
These CSR initiatives are far from being ploys or plays. Instead, they illustrate how organizations can breathe life into giving. It takes time and effort to not only stand with an idea but also to make it part of the fabric of a corporation.
For instance, Pro Motion’s support of Angels’ Arms, an organization that provides homes for foster kids, requires a serious level of commitment that we’re happy to provide. Along with supporting the nonprofit financially, we volunteer worker services. Days spent painting, cleaning, cooking, and landscaping on the company’s time help our employees do good and feel great.
Our team has also worked with KaBOOM!, a group providing safe recreational areas for kids in underserved neighborhoods. In a single day, KaBOOM! volunteers construct a play space where families can gather and relax. Target has also partnered with KaBOOM!, sending ambassadors to interact with children and their parents. The partnership is a natural fit for both Target, a company aimed at providing affordable products to everyone, and Pro Motion (because of the experiential work we do).
Take Your CSR to the Next Level
If your CSR program isn’t as fleshed out as you’d like, start asking the following five questions and in time, you’ll enrich your brand through truly meaningful actions:
- What CSR program will resonate with our employees?
To achieve authentic outreach, you should gain 100% commitment from your team members. Employees who aren’t passionate about a CSR push will never help lift it off the ground. In a worst-case scenario, their participation might be so weak that it could seem like you’re using the nonprofit as a way to gain exposure rather than an opportunity to promote change.
The easiest way to find out what motivates your employees is to ask them. Send out polls and ask for CSR suggestions. Then, analyze responses and determine which causes seem to make sense.
- What CSR program will resonate with customers and stakeholders?
As you gather input from employees on CSR ideas, connect with your customers and target audiences. You can set up a social media poll or hashtag or simply send out a “penny for your thoughts” email. Heck, if you have a retail store, offer an in-person survey at checkout.
Try to gather as many answers as possible. Compare them with the feedback from personnel to narrow down opinions to a handful of prospects.
- What type of CSR program correlates to our brand?
There are countless worthy causes in the world, but not all of them will be right for your company. Instead of choosing one that’s currently in the spotlight, look for the one with a natural brand fit.
For instance, TOMS famously donates a pair of shoes for every pair purchased. This fits not only what the company does, but also its overarching vision. Be very careful during this stage of CSR consideration. Studies indicate that trying to link CSR with improved productivity or profitability backfires. Approach the experience from a genuine, altruistic point of view.
- How can our CSR program show value without focusing on us?
The hero of your CSR story must always be the nonprofit (otherwise, you will set off customers’ BS meters like crazy). Spend time considering how you will not only support your chosen cause, but also talk about your support without calling attention to your brand when it’s not appropriate.
The biggest faux pas a corporation can make is trying to sell directly from a CSR initiative. Don’t use CSR as a stop on the sales funnel. Otherwise, you risk being lambasted on social media by consumers who see right through your tactics.
- How can our CSR program engage customers and employees?
By this point, you probably have at least one CSR initiative in mind. Now, figure out the roles that workers and patrons will play to help accomplish your philanthropic end goals.
Offer creative solutions, à la the TOMS method. Though customers don’t actually have to do anything aside from making TOMS their go-to brand of shoes, they still feel a connection with the CSR mission. They know they make a difference when they choose TOMS over a competitor.
Launching CSR programs involves a lot of corporate soul-searching. Invest in the process, and you’ll reap tremendous rewards from happy staff and consumers.
Want to learn more about experiential marketing and the many ways it can transform your business? Download our free e-book chapters from Brand Experiences: Building Connections in a Digitally Cluttered World to learn about other successful experiences and tried-and-true ways to custom-design your brand’s best CSR initiative yet.