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4 Steps to Build a Successful CSR Program


Does your company have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program?

If the answer is no (or even “sort of”), put creating one on your to-do list for 2016.

CSR isn’t a passing trend. Recent surveys have found that consumers — particularly millennials — base buying and investing decisions on companies’ demonstrated social responsibility and ethics.

According to a recent survey by Aflac Insurance, “68% of millennials are likely to invest in a company well-known for its corporate social responsibility program, whereas only 48% of those 35 and older would.” Meanwhile, “81% of consumers are more likely to purchase from corporations that are active in philanthropic efforts year-round as opposed to only in times of need.”

But creating a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program isn’t just a matter of good intentions. According to the Harvard Business Review, “to maximize their positive impact on the social and environmental systems in which they operate, companies must develop coherent CSR strategies.”

Here are four steps to create a successful CSR program in the New Year.

1. Perform a comprehensive audit.

Even if you haven’t codified a CSR plan, your company is likely spearheading at least a few initiatives that would fall under its umbrella. Do you organize fundraising walks, match employees’ donations to charity, or have a holiday giving program? Or perhaps a few employees or one senior manager has started a larger initiative that hasn’t yet gotten backing from the rest of the company. Detail exactly what’s already going on, so you can figure out if the initiative will fit under your new plan or whether you’ll want to reallocate resources to make room for a more directed program.

2. Develop a vision.

“When crafting a program, it is important to keep the three pillars of sustainability in the forefront: people, planet, and profit,” according to the Frontstream blog. It’s also important that your program match your company’s values and priorities.

Gather key stakeholders — and any employees who are especially interested in the initiative — to decide your key areas of focus. Even if you’re starting small, being deliberate about your mission is key.

Harvard Business Review identifies three “theaters of practice” in which most CSR programs fall.

  • Philanthropy: These initiatives “are not designed to produce profits or directly improve business performance” — think yearly donations to local nonprofits or employee volunteering initiatives.
  • Operational effectiveness: These initiatives “function within existing business models to deliver social or environmental benefits in ways that support a company across the value chain, often improving efficiency or effectiveness.” For example, a manufacturing company may change its practices to cut down on emissions.
  • Transforming the business model: “Programs in this theater create new forms of business specifically to address social or environmental challenges.” For example, a few years ago, Campbell’s Canada launched a not-for-profit meal in a can product to distribute to food banks in order to address hunger in their communities. In a Forbes article, Campbell’s said, “We have a responsibility because of who we are and what we do to take a lead role in alleviating hunger.”

3. Create a plan.

Once you’ve identified your program’s focus, decide who at the company will be responsible for implementing and tracking its success. How much of their time should be spent on CSR? How will you communicate the CSR program to customers and employees? How will you measure its effectiveness?

Remember too that it’s better to focus on one high-quality initiative than to try to spread limited resources (whether human or financial) across multiple objectives.

4. Prioritize communication.

“Merely identifying priorities for community investment isn’t enough. Leadership comes from providing employees, customers, and external stakeholders with a significant depth of information about the social issue through credible white papers, videos, stories, social media, and so on,” says Forbes.

Highlight success and positive side effects of the program to company leadership and investors — they’ll want to know how the program is impacting profit and/or public perception. Make sure employees feel invested and involved — creating a successful CSR program can do wonders for retention and create a real sense of community in the company. And consumers should know that you are taking the program seriously — case studies and in-depth stories of success will help convince them that you’re not just another company paying lip service to important issues.

Want to increase your business’s chances of success in 2016? Our 2016 CEO Resolutions series details a few worthwhile goals to focus on to strengthen and grow your company. See all posts here.

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