How to build an effective CSR strategy: Insight from Center members

Corporate-Citizenship-Stratgey Even the best laid out plans have their challenges. During a recent conversation, a local member company mentioned that they even felt their corporate citizenship strategy was frozen in place. They had been making progress, but things just seemed to slow down once the snow set in. They wanted to know: How do other companies thaw out their corporate citizenship strategy each year? How do they keep it from getting frozen in the first place? For answers, I turned to members of the Center’s Professional Services Sustainability Roundtable and Community Involvement Roundtable. The Center has more than 400 companies representing 21 industries and a large range of company sizes, but the advice these corporate leaders gave regarding strategy was extremely consistent. 

First, your corporate citizenship strategy should be shaped by your company’s business strategy and vision. Do your research first on your business. What are the opportunities and risks facing your industry now and in the near future? What are the specific business objectives of your company? In the 2014 State of Corporate Citizenship, the majority of executives surveyed reported that “attracting new customers” was the top business goal overall, but when you look at the research by industry that top goal changes from “securing a sustainable supply chain” for the manufacturing industry to “improving the ability to recruit employees” for the information sector. Corporate citizenship professionals need to know these business goals in order to create a strategic plan that supports them. Suggestions on how to do this ranged from attending best practices events in your industry as well as on corporate citizenship (such as the Center’s International Corporate Citizenship Conference), to staying up to date on emerging trends through business articles, blogs, and journals for your industry, and networking with like-minded professionals. As a further incentive, a study at the Rochester Institute of Technology found that companies with consistent corporate citizenship strategies benefited financially. 

Second, understand who your primary stakeholders are and what corporate citizenship issues are important to them. Our recent research found that executives are more concerned about data security and health and wellness than they were in previous years. If you are not doing periodic check ins with your stakeholders, you may be slow to address an emerging issue or opportunity for your company. 

Several members recommended building a cross-functional internal committee as a way to keep informed and build support for corporate citizenship—or as another member put it: “Create an army of advocates at the senior leadership level. They will be your best means of spreading the word about your new strategy and will also help break down any barriers in their lines of business.” That said, several members cautioned that it may be slow to get to that point. It took one member seven presentations to her C-suite before she had final buy-in on her new strategy! Besides persistence, she recommended being specific and realistic about the benefits you expect as a result of delivering this strategy. Also, as noted in a recent Center blog, be prepared with data to back up your plan.

Equally important is engaging external stakeholders through traditional means such as community meetings and personal conversations, or through newer social media avenues. Several members have integrated corporate citizenship blogs into their corporate websites, have created corporate citizenship video series, or have participated in twitter chats focused on corporate citizenship. As long as these avenues provide two-way communication between you and your stakeholders—and you are willing to show you are actively listening—they can help strengthen your strategy in an on-going way. 

Finally, be prepared for change. Changes in the C-suite, mergers, acquisitions, and downsizing are just a few examples of times when you will want to review your corporate citizenship strategy and make sure it is still a good fit. 

To learn more about how companies are building their corporate citizenship strategies, consider joining us for one of our professional development courses.


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