6 Steps To Building A Sustainable CSR Program

Does your company have a sustainable CSR program? GlobalGiving’s Nicole Morrissey outlines six steps you can take to build one.


In today’s competitive business environment, corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs need to go beyond “doing good.” The most successful CSR initiatives tell a company’s story, implement customer and employee feedback, position a company as a leader on social issues, and guide how community investment dollars will best be spent.

But to accomplish this, CSR programs first need to be strategically aligned with a company’s business model. If corporate citizenship efforts do not demonstrate value to customers, employees, and shareholders, as well as the community, they’re less likely to be successful and serve a long term purpose.

Below are six ways that your company can craft an effective corporate social responsibility program that is strategic and sustainable:

    1. Build your strategy around your company’s core competencies.

    There are many worthy causes companies can choose to support, but without focus and alignment around what your business already does well, your CSR efforts may be less effective. If a company has developed strengths, research, and knowledge in a specific area, supporting a cause that aligns with that expertise can be both a win for community partners and for the company with new customer visibility and revenue streams. “CSR can be both a risk mitigation strategy and an opportunity-seeking strategy, and leaders should look for the ‘sweet spot’ within their organizations—that is, the intersection between business and social/environmental returns,” Kellie McElhaney, Director at the Center for Responsible Business, explains.

    2. Recognize issues that matter to your customers.

    It’s no secret that corporate citizenship efforts can promote a positive brand association for companies, but do customers really care? The answer is a resounding “yes.” According to a Cone Communications CSR Study, 87% of consumers would purchase a product based on a company supporting a social or environmental issue the consumer cares about. Consumers are rewarding socially responsible companies through brand loyalty, making donations to charities companies support, and purchasing products that provide a social benefit. As recent corporate scandals in the news demonstrate, consumers also aren’t afraid to use their buying power to punish companies who have acted irresponsibly or harmfully, through boycotts and negative social media campaigns.

    3. Develop CSR initiatives that make your employees proud.

    Strategic companies are also using CSR programs to protect and grow their biggest asset—their employees. Seventy-six percent of millennials consider a company’s social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work and 64% would not take a job if a potential employer didn’t have strong corporate social responsibility practices in place.

    “Being a good employer has always served companies well in terms of recruitment and retention, now those practices can also yield broader positive business benefits,” said Alison DaSilva, former Executive VP of CSR Strategy at Cone Communications.

    In addition, engaged employees are more likely to stay with a company longer, reducing attrition cost. Eighty-eight percent of millennials say their job is more fulfilling when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact on social and environmental issues. These initiatives can range from paid time off for volunteering to company-wide days of service to skills-based virtual volunteering opportunities.

    4. Measure the ROI of your CSR efforts for the C-suite and your investors.

    Evaluating CSR programs can be overwhelming, especially when initiatives can span many different departments such as human resources, marketing, sustainability and compliance. However, developing an organized framework for reporting that links efforts back to strategic priorities for the business will inform your C-suite and investors if your CSR efforts are affecting your company’s performance. Seek to quantify socially conscious efforts that are directly tied to the company’s bottom line—for example, activities that drive cost savings, new customer acquisition, and brand awareness.

    5. Expand your company’s definition of CSR.

    Traditionally, good corporate citizenship was defined by annual giving programs, cause marketing campaigns, and efforts aimed at reducing environmental resources. And while those efforts are valuable, consumers and companies alike have become more innovative in how they define a responsible company.

    According to a Cone Communications CSR Study, consumers prioritize the following business actions as important: being a good employer, operating in a way that protects and benefits society and the environment, creating products and services that ensure individual wellbeing, investing in causes in local communities and around the globe, and standing up for important social justice issues. For a summary of this article, check out our infographic, “The Keys To Strategic Corporate Giving.”

    6. Be prepared for rapid response to current events and social movements.

    Even the best laid plans for CSR may require changing. To be sustainable, your CSR work needs to be flexible. This could include modifying budgets, redirecting investments of time, and quickly identifying trusted nonprofit partners to launch new programs or adjust existing ones. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, many companies pivoted in their social impact work. By being adaptive with your CSR, your program will remain relevant and timely.

CSR programs have the potential to bring value to business and society, but only if done well. By aligning corporate citizenship efforts with revenue-generating activities, you can ensure your CSR program is strategic and sustainable.

See Nicole’s CSR tips as an interactive infographic.


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Note: This post was updated on April 21, 2021 to reflect the Derek Chauvin verdict.

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