CSR Strategy for 2020

CSR has come a long way.

It’s bigger than a photo opportunity with employees in company t-shirts with shovels in hand.

With the rise of B corps and corresponding withering critiques of past CSR efforts, companies are making CSR a strategic priority that now sits firmly in the C-suite.

Whether we’re talking about environmental leadership in procurement practices and ethical labor practices or philanthropic giving to nonprofits and organized volunteering opportunities, companies are stepping up their CSR game and redefining how it works in practice.

Sure, CSR is still a broad umbrella. And these are still businesses we’re talking about here.But the ways in which social impact can exist as a legitimate corporate goal are growing. At the same time, the expectations for companies and their CSR programs are rising alongside the opportunities for real impact.

That means that building a winning CSR strategy in 2020 is a critical component for companies looking to improve their brand identity and maximize their impact. Let’s look at the trends shaping CSR in the new year as well as the strategies and tools companies can leverage to build a winning CSR strategy.

CSR trends to watch in 2020

CSR trends to watch in 2020

As you’re building your CSR program, you’ll want to learn from this past year while looking ahead at emerging trends in the field.

In 2019, CSR was solidified as a C-suite priority with a greater focus on measurement, diversity and inclusion, as well as employee leadership and corporate transparency. With investors stepping up to signal their interest in the ways that companies engage with environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, CSR matured significantly in the past year.

In 2020, many of the anticipated top trends will focus on going even deeper.

Conversations about equity in treatment will grow within the diversity and inclusion space. A stronger emphasis on more eco-friendly supply chains and sustainable procurement will likely dominate. Companies will keep a close watch on the elections in the United States while striving to respond to Gen Z’s thirst for brand activism.

So what do all these mean when it comes to shaping your CSR strategy in the new year?

In short, building a winning CSR strategy should entail internalizing these trends and executing based on what they mean for your company and its unique CSR priorities.

And modern companies just can’t afford to ignore the trends shaping CSR.

Why not?

Because the consumers they’re looking to court are the ones shaping these trends. The companies that align their CSR strategy to the social impact priorities of their target market will (increasingly) win over a larger swath of their target markets.

Sit down with your team and analyze these past and emerging trends while you develop your new CSR strategy for 2020.

Now let’s dive into the finer points of how to build a winning CSR strategy in the new year.

The nitty-gritty of building your CSR strategy in 2020

The nitty-gritty of building your CSR strategy in 2020

What questions should you ask yourself and your team as you develop your CSR strategy?

Here are a few to consider:

  • Poll your customers. Do you have a strong understanding of the gaps that your customers perceive when it comes to your brand and its stances/actions on areas of social impact? What do your customers want your brand to address, and do they know what you’re already addressing?
  • Survey your team & external stakeholders. What differences and similarities are you finding between your senior management and local community leaders when it comes to CSR priorities? Which causes do your employees actively support?
  • Analyze your own landscape. What socially-oriented actions and positions has your company taken over the past few years in the realm of CSR? What were the results? Were your brand promises kept?
  • Link to company values. Which social causes are a natural fit for your company given its values and market position? What level of salience do these causes carry today?
  • Assess your capacity. What internal resources can be leveraged to effectively execute a CSR campaign? Which external stakeholders can be enlisted to support our CSR goals?

These are just the baseline first steps. Armed with answers to these questions, you should dive into the tactical approaches that will shape your CSR initiatives.

Link to company values

All of your CSR work should flow from your company values.

If your CSR strategy is not values-aligned, you’re risking your brand identity.

Assuming your employees are invested in these values (which we hope they are), your CSR work will feel like a normal part of their work rather than a burdensome add-on.

When prepping your CSR strategy, create a values-driven strategy map that explicitly links your CSR activities back to those values. That way, you can be very intentional and explicit in the projects you select and how you communicate your impact.

Build from your customers’ priorities

Once you’ve asked your customers what they care about, it had better show up in your CSR strategy.

Don’t inquire then disappoint. That’s a surefire way to lose customers.

Be transparent about the results you get from your customer base. They’d probably like to hear their priorities reflected back to them in the form of a shiny report that shows you’re listening to them and, more importantly, making their social impact agenda the centerpiece of your CSR strategy.

Develop employee buy-in

Your CSR strategy doesn’t move without your employees.

This starts with determining your employees’ preferred social causes and using that information to help build your overall strategy. They want to see themselves reflected in the CSR work you’ll be asking them to support.

Without that buy-in, it’ll be hard to execute any CSR program.

Be sure to go beyond just a one-time survey, but actually enlist your staff in developing the strategy from the start. Allow them to define how the company values show up in your CSR work, to connect directly with customers about CSR, and to build strong internal teams that will execute the strategy.

Remember, your employees are the lifeblood of your overall CSR approach.

Enlist external stakeholders

There’s a famous saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi:

“Whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me”

In other words, you’ll have a very hard time doing positive work in the community without community support.

This is where lots of companies get tripped up. They fail to build a strong team outside of their offices. But you can avoid this by engaging with local stakeholders early and often as you build and execute your CSR strategy.

Start with some basic research and a comprehensive needs assessment that can even be driven by the external community members you recruit to join your CSR program. They’re the best individuals to tell you what work is needed in their communities.

By trusting the wisdom of local leaders and community members, you’ll end up with a better CSR approach that’s informed by the lived experiences of those you’re looking to support. It’s just that simple.

Connect with existing local initiatives

There’s already good work going on in the communities you’re looking to empower.

Don’t ever forget it.

This is an important point because entering into CSR work with an asset-based lens is a crucial and research-backed approach that yields better results for your program and the communities you’re serving.

In practice, this looks like scanning the neighborhoods you’re looking to work in and building relationships with the organizations there already addressing the issues that mean so much to your customers and employees.

This is one juncture where you connect the dots as you build your strategy.

What you’ll likely find is an incredible number of strengths existing in communities that will serve your CSR program well and enhance the impact you’re able to achieve in partnership with these communities.

It’s also just the humble and kind thing to do when working in any community.

Execute your program with fidelity and flexibility

Pull it all together now.

From your company values and customer priorities to your employees’ preferences and that landscape analysis of the communities you’re looking to serve, you’ve got a lot to take into account.

This is where you juggle and synthesize. Then the hard work begins.

Part of that hard work involves balancing the values of your company with the wishes of your employees, consumers and community. Those values and priorities do not always align and can sometimes be in tension. The biggest challenge here is clearly communicating how you intend to execute on those values through your CSR program. Even if certain stakeholders wish for a different approach, they’ll likely respect your clarity and intentionality.

Make it an open and active conversation among all parties. When you truly take into account multiple perspectives when shaping your CSR program, you enlist greater numbers in your eventual work while enriching the overall CSR effort.

As you launch your program, make sure you’ve determined your criteria for success in advance (and the data you’ll collect to verify them). Know how and when you’ll measure your impact.

It’s a delicate balancing act. Keep your execution tight enough that it sticks to the goals you set out based on all of those factors while also allowing for some flexibility to adapt as you go. In social impact work, the facts on the ground can change rapidly and you’ll need to exercise patience and dexterity with those shifting realities.

Just ask the community organizations with whom you’re working. They’ll tell you.

Measure results and communicate your impact

When your program wraps up, you’re not actually done.

You’ve now got some sharing to do. You’re on the hook to communicate those results with multiple parties. First off, your employees will want to hear how it went. Empower your internal CSR team to lead this conversation. They’re the ones who did the work, they deserve the glory.

You’ll also need to have some frank conversations with the local stakeholders and organizations you collaborated with about what impact you did or didn’t achieve through your work together. This can be one of the hardest parts of any CSR engagement because people will expect a lot of you as a company.

Enter into these conversations with humility and a commitment to continuing the work and you’ll be fine.

Lastly, don’t neglect to report out how your CSR initiative went to other companies and the broader public. Think of this as a way to keep your own team accountable while also spreading your impact more broadly. By informing other players in the CSR sector of how your project went, you can positively influence other initiatives to prevent mistakes and improve their approaches.

Your customers also want to hear about your CSR work. Whether you regularly update your website with facts and figures from your CSR efforts or share photos and videos on social media, make sure you’re maximizing the brand benefits of publicizing your corporate giving.

In other words, don’t be shy and play show and tell when it comes to your CSR work.

A modern platform for running CSR strategy

As the expectations for companies involved in CSR work continue to rise, so do the stakes.

CSR programs are increasingly complex and it’s important to give your team the best possible tools to organize and execute a winning CSR strategy. Submittable is a modern submission platform that allows your team to significantly reduce the time and resources it takes to run a top-notch CSR initiative.

Whether you’re wrangling in-kind donations to nonprofits, funding grants, or sponsoring local events in the community, you need a tool that puts your CSR work in one centralized place.

Move your CSR strategy into 2020 with the right tools that maximize the impact in the community.

Paul Perry
Paul Perry

Paul Perry is a writer and former educator with significant experience in nonprofit management. He has a soft spot for grant-seekers striving to make the world a better, more just place.