Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is an increasingly hot topic.
CSR is a business approach that centers social responsibility and ethical practices. It often incorporates environmental and social programs as well as good governance.
Mounting research establishes that effective CSR brings a host of benefits to business. These include benefits to the brand, such as a positive reputation and brand loyalty, as well as a swath of benefits to the workforce, including high morale, positive culture, improved recruitment and increased retention. Together, these effects make it clear that practicing CSR isn’t just the right thing to do—it’s the smart thing to do for the bottom line.
Good CSR encompasses meaty, difficult, long-term objectives: things like employee ownership, becoming a certified B Corp, a sustainable supply chain, and carbon neutrality. It also means shorter-term, actionable programs that can make a meaningful difference in your community today.
The internet is full of the same examples—Patagonia, Lego, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc.—of corporations with exemplary, long-term, well-rounded commitments to CSR. However, if you’re looking for inspiration you can take action on today, these examples may be a little intimidating—and perhaps not be the best place to start.
Striving toward an authentic, effective, top-to-bottom commitment to social responsibility is deep, important work—and here’s a framework to help.
In the meantime, here are five examples of brands—Submittable customers, all—running original programs that are realistic and actionable for many organizations in the short term. We’ll briefly provide context on each brand’s larger mission and accompanying CSR efforts, and then zero in on a specific example (or examples) that could work for you. We’ll even provide a key takeaway. Whether you’re with a large corporation or running a small business, find great CSR ideas you can implement at your own company, right away.
Actionable CSR Examples You Can Try Today
- WarnerMedia: Increasing equity and diversity in the talent pipeline through fellowships and internships in entertainment
- Whole Foods Market: Engaging employees and supporting healthy food access and education through community grants
- C3 AI: Incentivizing innovative data science projects to combat the COVID-19 pandemic through a grand challenge
- Blackfoot Communications: Connecting community through a culture of caring and event sponsorships
- Kettlehouse Brewing Co.: Celebrating and partnering with community through collaborative fundraising
Increasing equity and diversity in the talent pipeline through fellowships and internships in entertainment
WarnerMedia is the entertainment giant behind such brands as HBO Max, Warner Brothers, CNN and Cartoon Network.
WarnerMedia’s broader CSR strategy is varied and robust, and includes focuses on:
- Civic engagement: Efforts include partnerships between HBO Max and Rock the Vote and the team at Sesame Street’s work to help promote participation in the U.S. Census.
- Celebration of Pride: Initiatives span both the participation of many business groups in public festivities as well as financial support for The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people.
A key feature of effective CSR is clear alignment between the purpose of a CSR program and the broader mission of the company—in WarnerMedia’s case, to “bring people, technology, and the world’s best storytellers together to drive culture and meaningful connection.” This makes for an authentic program, and helps people identify your business as purpose-driven overall. With this principle in mind, WarnerMedia Access and WarnerMedia Access to Action are two exemplary CSR programs.
WarnerMedia Access and WarnerMedia Access to Action are programs that seek to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the entertainment industry—recognizing that in order to attract and empower the “world’s best storytellers,” they must tackle the challenge of higher barriers to entry faced by historically underrepresented talent.
WarnerMedia Access to Action
WarnerMedia’s Access to Action program “provides individuals who haven’t traditionally had pathways into the entertainment industry with access to below-the-line jobs and training opportunities on WarnerMedia productions.”
In the entertainment industry, “below the line” talent refers to the crew involved with the day-to-day operations of film-making, including production and post-production. This can include positions such as sound design and editing, hair and make-up, as well as cinematography and visual effects. The Access to Action program uses CSR software to accept applications to join an upcoming fellowship cohort.
Program candidates are sourced in partnership with local nonprofits in communities where production is taking place. In this way, rather than show up in a community and simply impose their own program, Access to Action relies on the local organizations that have already been doing the work before they showed up. For example, in Spring of 2021, Access to Action is partnering with New York City-based Reel Works, a youth program that provides post-production coordinator skills training for BIPOC young adults. Other opportunities at WarnerMedia Access to Action include a Camera Internship and a Grip and Electric Internship.
A typical fellowship, such as the post-production coordinator internship, includes a cohort of approximately 15-16 trainees, runs for seven weeks and provides a small stipend. Participants receive instruction from top industry professionals as well as collaborative scenario-based practicums for trainees to practice their skills.
It’s hard to put into words how immensely this program has impacted my career . . . This opportunity has opened so many doors to foster relationships with individuals from corporate, directors, producers and the list goes on. Without this gateway, the road to accomplishing my goal to be a film and episodic TV director would be far more difficult.Andrew S. Williams, former Access to Action participant as an office production assistant on AJ and the Queen
To date, Access to Action has yielded more than 400 participants from more than 20 cities placed on WarnerMedia productions, including Joker, Watchmen, Insecure, and In the Heights. Of the first two cohorts of WarnerMedia Access Post Product Training program, which included 31 participants, to date, 14 have been hired as post-production coordinators, and two more in related post-production roles—an impressive 51% rate of finding job success.
Similarly, WarnerMedia Access includes a suite of talent pipeline initiatives with the goal of recruiting and retaining talent across various professions from underrepresented backgrounds.
Current WarnerMedia Access initiatives include coveted fields in the entertainment industry:
- Writers Program
- Directors Program
- Showrunners Program
- Animated Shorts
Much like Access to Action, these fellowships include access to mentors and opportunities across WarnerMedia’s cable, network and streaming properties, however, they run over a substantial period of time. The Access Writers Program, as an example, is scheduled to begin with a “boot camp” of several sessions over the first three days, and then will continue with one to two sessions a week over the next six months—100% virtually.
Formerly the HBO Access Writer’s Program, the 27 alumni have gone on to work on shows including Lovecraft Country and The Nevers.
Whole Foods Market
Engaging employees and supporting healthy food access and education through community grants
Whole Foods Market is a supermarket chain known for robust offerings of healthy and organic food with 500 stores across the U.S. and the U.K.
A signature aspect of Whole Foods’ larger CSR landscape is its Sourced for Good program. A collaboration with farms, suppliers, and international third party certifiers—Fair Trade USA, Rainforest Alliance, Fairtrade America, Fair Food Program and Equitable Food Initiative—Sourced for Good works to improve lives and protect the planet, including, for example:
- Empowering farmworkers, such as through improving wages
- Impacting communities, such as through providing school buses and scholarships
- Supporting environmental stewardship, such as through planting trees to prevent erosion
Whole Foods also runs robust giving program through its three foundations:
- Whole Planet Foundation, working to alleviate global poverty
- Whole Kids Foundation, supporting improved nutrition and wellness for kids
- Whole Cities Foundation, expanding healthy food access and nutrition education
Community First Grant Program
A signature effort of the Whole Cities Foundation is its Community First Grant (CFG) Program. The CFG Program provides grants to nonprofits working to promote long-term fresh, healthy food access and nutrition education in their communities.
Much like the previous example, the CFG program is clearly rooted in alignment of purpose between the corporation as a whole and the specific impact of the CSR strategy.
One CFG beneficiary is Keney Park Sustainability Project in Windsor, Connecticut. As Program Director Herb Virgo puts it, the organization is focused on “immersing people back into nature [while] also teaching people skill sets that they can use to become healthier.”
As a Whole Foods team member put it,
[Keney Park] is building a sustainability program that’s meant to be here for the long haul to learn about healthy food and nutrition. That’s really what drives the bus.Lee Kane, Mission, Culture and Higher Purpose Coach, Whole Foods
Of course, corporations don’t engage in CSR just because it’s the right thing to do—it’s also smart. Leaders of companies of all sizes recognize that the uptick in employee engagement and satisfaction also ultimately serves the bottom line. In fact, 88% of the workforce says that working for a company with a strong purpose is more important to employees now than ever, according to a 2020 Porter Novelli Purpose Tracker report.
If that sense of purpose transcends to the level of individual employees, all the better. Here is where the CFG program truly provides a model. Nominations for Community First Grants must begin with a team member who actively volunteers with the organization.
This ingenious step in the process practically guarantees the maximum payoff to Whole Foods in terms of increasing employee morale, retention, and satisfaction in their job. Employees are not only given the opportunity to help provide funding, they’re required to actually get their hands dirty —for some nonprofits, such as a community garden, literally!—in volunteering their own free time. Studies have shown that volunteering leads to benefits from improved mental and physical health to higher confidence and happiness levels.
Team member testimonials attest to the sense of purpose the Community Grants Program has fostered:
It’s such a rewarding feeling. It felt lucky to be there…you have purpose when you do something like this because you can see the people you’re helping and you see the work you’re doing and it’s just really rewarding.Dustin Johnson, Team Trainer for Customer Service, Whole Foods
To date, the CFG program has invested $1.3 million in 135 organizations which serve more than 100 communities across the U.S. and Canada.
See it for yourself
With CSR software, you can launch an impactful program quickly and efficiently.
Incentivizing innovative data science projects to combat the COVID-19 pandemic through a grand challenge
C3 AI is an enterprise AI (artificial intelligence) software provider. C3 AI’s Suite empowers customers to build enterprise-scale AI applications efficiently and cost-effectively, providing solutions to challenges like fraud detection, energy management, supply chain optimization, and predictive maintenance.
C3 AI’s core values are Innovation, Curiosity, Integrity, and Collective Intelligence. One manifestation of C3 AI’s core values in social responsibility work is through the Digital Transformation Institute (DTI), a partnership with Microsoft and leading research institutions including the University of California, Berkeley and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among others.
Founded by Tom Siebel, CEO of C3 AI, the goal of the DTI is to give researchers tools and access to larger and better datasets, enabling breakthrough research and collaboration. At its inception in 2020, the primary focus was COVID-19 research, but in the future the DTI will focus on additional areas of research. C3 AI and Microsoft funded the Institute with $367 million in grants.
To take one example of a DTI grantee: Karen Chapple, chair and professor of city and regional planning at UC Berkeley, tracked housing evictions related to the pandemic. Her ultimate goal is to better understand the risk of housing precarity and inequality, and eventually influence better public housing policymaking.
The COVID-19 Grant Challenge
Beyond the DTI, C3 AI found a creative way to incentivize and inspire COVID-related research that could help the entire world respond to the crisis. Behold the C3 AI COVID-19 Grand Challenge.
In the C3 AI COVID-19 Grand Challenge, developers, data scientists, students, and creative minds around the world developed meaningful data-driven insights to inform decision makers and change how the world is fighting this pandemic.
For the challenge, C3 AI provided its vast COVID-19 Data Lake with the hope that participants would produce innovative projects that would ultimately help people fight the pandemic.
777 participants entered the challenge across 43 different countries, which awarded $200,000 in prize money across seven different first, second, and third place finishers.
The winning submission, titled, “Combined Diagnostics: Modeling Population Heterogeneity by Providing Personalized COVID Diagnostics” tackled the number one thing that was on everyone’s mind in the thick of the lockdown: When would it be safe to travel or get together again?
The research team, winners of the $100,000 grand prize: Freddy Bunbury, Nina Miolane, and Claire Donnat, used a Bayesian Stochastic Expectation-Maximization method to create a model that more accurately accounted for heterogeneity in safety estimates. The end result was a model that estimated susceptibility to infection for an individual based on factors such as location, behavior, symptoms, and COVID-19s. Ultimately, the model could help inform individual decisions as well as public policy.
The output is a statistically sound estimate of the probability of having COVID, along with the measure of uncertainty associated with that estimate. We have used this . . . to help individuals assess their own risk levels as well as to inform group testing or risk evaluation for public event planning.Claire Donnat, Assistant Professor, Department of Statistics University of Chicago
The COVID-19 Grand Challenge succeeded in engaging a global community to creatively contribute to responding to the pandemic. And it did so by leveraging what C3 AI does best: using tools that help use big data to solve problems, collaboratively. As a one-off from the ongoing efforts of the DTI, the challenge was an innovative way to inspire a different group of individuals to participate in solving the world’s greatest challenge. And everyone benefited from the end results.
Connecting community through a culture of caring and event sponsorships
Blackfoot communications is an internet provider serving Western Montana and Eastern Idaho with dedicated DSL broadband. With a mission to connect people, businesses, and communities, Blackfoot Communications invests in countless local community events and programs that make a difference in the lives of their constituents.
One way Blackfoot Communications supports its community is through student scholarships. In 2021, the Blackfoot Board of Trustees awarded a total of $34,000 to 42 students in the company’s Montana and Idaho rural service territories, the tenth straight year it offered a similar level of scholarship funding. The scholarships recognize the students’ academic achievement as well as a commitment to improving their community..
A separate effort is Blackfoot’s sponsorship of the C2M Beta technology accelerator. This 12-week intensive program was conceived by Blackfoot in order to “accelerate innovation and empower promising, early-stage Montana and Idaho startups to drive impact and value in the Rocky Mountain region.” The five Winter 2021 cohort members were selected based on the priority criteria which included:
- Leadership by female founders,
- Offering disruptive technology, and
- Impacting the Montana and Idaho region.
Blackfoot Community Support Program
Perhaps Blackfoot Communications’ signature CSR program is its robust Blackfoot Community Support Program. The community support program spans a wide range of causes—from the arts (e.g., the Missoula Symphony Orchestra), to youth enrichment (e.g., the Missoula Mavericks baseball team), to well-established positive change organizations (e.g., YWCA, 4-H, United Way, etc.).
Blackfoot Communications also empowers their “employee ambassadors” to actively engage with these causes. Many employees participate in some capacity with organizations that benefit from the community support program—from running in the sponsored “Snow Joke” race, to serving as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA), to receiving help from the Jadyn Fred Foundation which supports families facing serious health issues.
As discussed earlier, this is smart as well as generous: employees with a strong sense of purpose make for a happier, more productive workforce.
I have a special place in my heart for kids, so I jumped at the chance to volunteer for CASA as a Court Appointed Special Advocate when my own children headed to college. It’s hard work, but incredibly gratifying! It means a lot to me that Blackfoot accommodates this volunteerism during my work day and also provides financial support to CASA.Barb Honken, IT Senior Systems Integration Analyst since 2001
So much presence at local events and among local organizations also leads to a positive reputation. Many community events make a point to thank their sponsors in event material. Blackfoot also reserves the right to promote these sponsorships through their own channels, such as their website or social media accounts, which may include photo or video footage. It all adds up to a big, positive presence in the community.
This helps with recruitment and retention—a huge long-term boon for business. In fact:
- The Society for Human Resource Management estimates that replacing a salaried employee costs the business 6 to 9 months’ salary on average, and
- A Satell Institute study found that engaging in CSR can reduce turnover by up to 50%.
With such widespread, positive impact in its community, Blackfoot Communications is reaping these benefits.
I choose to work at Blackfoot because of our reputation for supporting community and honoring work life balance. I’m blessed to have a very active sports-minded family so this year I was especially grateful for the sponsorship of the Missoula Mavericks and other youth league sports. It’s a great experience to cheer our team on knowing that my company stands behind me.Christie McCullough, Project Coordinator
Of course, a positive reputation doesn’t only help with recruitment and retention. It’s also a major driver of consumer behavior, and is only becoming more pronounced among younger generations, who show increasing patterns of giving their dollars to companies with positive social impact programs.
In fact, a recent Sourcing Journal report found that a staggering 91% of millennials and 90% of Gen Z were more willing to purchase products from companies offering social or environmental benefits. The more that Blackfoot gets their name out there in support of local events, the more the next generation of internet buyers will associate their brand with positive purpose.
Blackfoot’s Community Support Program accepts Event Sponsorship requests of $250 and under, $251-999, and $1,000 and over. It also accepts requests for raffle of gift baskets, cash donations, and community projects.
Kettlehouse Brewing Co.
Celebrating and supporting community through collaborative fundraising
Kettlehouse Brewing Co. is a brewery located in Bonner, Montana, with two taprooms and a canning operation.
With a mission to “match the quality of our beers to the quality of the Montana outdoor experience,” their CSR initiatives are closely aligned with either the preservation of the environment or the enjoyment of a cold one.
Kettlehouse proudly follows the mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Their efforts at sustainable production include:
- Encouraging waste-free consumption through growler refills
- Choosing cans instead of glass bottles, which are fully recyclable and are more conducive to bringing on-the-go for adventures (glass is illegal on Montana rivers)
- Boxing cans with a high percent of post-consumer recycled material
- Using locally grown and locally malted barley
- Donating spent grain to local farmers as livestock feed and a local bakery
- Reusing hot water generated through the brewing process to start the next beer
Kettlehouse has also offered a free “Beer Kollege” to give patrons the opportunity to learn the craft of “producing and tasting fine crafted brews.” One hundred members of the community participated in tours and guided tastings (and even got homework and received a diploma).
The Kettlehouse Community Kollab is a creative way that the brewery gives nonprofits a chance to fundraise. Select nonprofits have the opportunity to collaborate on a custom-crafted beer, and will then receive $1 for every pint of it sold during the quarter (or until the beer is gone—whichever comes first!).
One such beneficiary was the Missoula Irish Dance Association and Friends of Irish Studies. In collaboration with Kettlehouse’s brewers, they crafted a “Sláinte Dry Irish Stout” for the first quarter of 2020, encompassing St. Patrick’s Day—a fun, festive, and rewarding way to raise money.
Another long-standing CSR initiative is Kettlehouse’s Community UNite. This single-night event benefits a nonprofit organization with $1 for every pint sold at the Bonner taphouse location from 5-8pm, with Kettlehouse assisting in the promotion of the evening. Whereas the Community Kollab gives nonprofits a chance to creatively influence the beer and its branding, the Community UNite evening is a way to bring friends and neighbors together in support of a good cause (and no matter which tap tickles their fancy—the donation applies to all draughts).
Beneficiaries of a Community UNite night have included organizations that share Ketlehouse’s value of the outdoors such as the Montana Natural History Center and Climate Smart Missoula.
The Montana Forest Fund
In service of Kettlehouse’s full mission, encompassing the love of beer and Montana’s great outdoors, in Spring of 2021, Kettlehouse and the National Forest Foundation announced a new, lasting fundraising collaboration. Kettlehouse will donate $1 of each pint sold from a permanent, dedicated tap (with a rotating beer selection) to the newly established Montana Forest Fund benefitting the National Forest Foundation. The fund is “designed to create lasting benefit to the lands, waters, and recreational resources of Montana’s National Forests.”
While at launch the dedicated tap is wooden with the Montana Forest Foundation logo, the intention is to get even more community involvement through an art competition for the tap design.
The funds raised will be invested on an annual basis into priority restoration and other projects, with the aim of meaningfully improving the Montana National Forest experience for recreational visitors.
Now more than ever, Montanans are getting out and enjoying their National Forests. We feel that it’s imperative to simultaneously take care of these special places. We’re excited to partner with the National Forest Foundation to give back to our Forests in a meaningful way.Tiffany Lutke, Marketing Manager for Kettlehouse
As of this writing, visitors to Kettlehouse’s Bonner taphouse can enjoy the Strawberry Milkshake IPA on the Montana Forest Fund tap, and patrons of their Southside location in Missoula can enjoy the Montana Moment Pale Ale.
Learn more about Submittable
From Fortune 100 media companies to microbreweries, Submittable helps companies of all sizes and industries run meaningful CSR programs that bring value to their communities and benefits to their brand. Interested in learning more about how Submittable could run the program you have in mind? Talk to our team.