How Your Board of Directors Can Play a Role in CSR Efforts

This post was created in partnership with Boardable, a board management software.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is more important than ever for signaling to your consumers that you are a company where they should spend their money. In a recent Reputation Institute study, more than 91% of participants said they would buy from a company with a good CSR program. If you aren’t already investing in CSR initiatives, it’s not too late to start. While this is an ongoing commitment, it doesn’t have to be burdensome. In fact, an authentic effort can benefit your company culture and your financial success. 

Corporate social responsibility is how companies signal their values to the communities that they serve. This can be done in many different ways, from financially investing in philanthropic causes to initiating social or environmental improvement programs. 

Having a robust CSR program is not only greatly beneficial to the community being served, but it also positively influences the company’s reputation. The positive impacts of CSR programs include improved brand image, increased customer loyalty, deepened employee connection with company values, and even reduced employee turnover.

Seeing as how your board is responsible for many high-level decisions regarding your mission and values, involving them in crafting CSR policies is essential.

We’ll explore several ways to involve your board in your CSR initiatives, including:

  1. Set a CSR policy for the company
  2. Initiate a grant program
  3. Build external partnerships
  4. Assess performance

Giving your board the opportunity to shape the image of the company in such an important way can also help re-engage some of your board members. An engaged board is the first step to creating an environment for employees to develop a strong connection to your company. A board’s culture and work ethic influence the entire organization, so explore Boardable’s guide to board engagement to learn how you can infuse a culture of enthusiasm in your boardroom.

There’s no time to waste when it comes to engaging your board members and employees through an excellent CSR program. Let’s get started! 

Set a CSR policy for the company 

Your board is responsible for ensuring that your organization carries out its mission and achieves its goals. This includes creating the necessary programs and environment for employees to embody your core values. After all, employee buy-in starts at the top. You can’t expect your other employees to be dedicated to your organization if they are not seeing genuine examples of that from the organization’s leaders. One of the best ways for your board to do this is to establish an excellent CSR program. 

To get started, dedicate a board meeting to discussing ideas for CSR policies. Consider sending out materials on different CSR policies in the industry and the importance of these types of programs to prepare your members to actively participate and bring ideas to the table. 

If you’re asking board members to come prepared, it’s important that you also come ready to lead a productive discussion. Some of the different types of CSR efforts you might discuss include: 

  • Philanthropy. Directly donating to a philanthropic cause or hosting a fundraising event are common ways to support charitable causes, but you can also develop a matching gifts program. Matching gifts will encourage your employees to make donations to causes they care about all year long, which your company will match. This spreads out your philanthropic efforts and strengthens employee satisfaction since you’ll be supporting the causes they care about. 
  • Volunteer grants. Similarly, with a volunteer grant program, your employees can volunteer at an organization. Then, your company will donate X dollars for every X amount of hours. 
  • Ethical practices. This includes transparency in practices, improving employee benefits, family leave time, offering competitive pay, and more. You can show that you care about the well-being of your employees outside of work hours by implementing these practices.
  • Environmental practices. For example, you could commit to reducing your carbon emissions, using more environmentally-friendly materials, or undergoing any other initiative aimed at reducing your environmental impact. This is especially important to younger generations and is most impactful with large companies. 

Because there might be many different ideas on the best kind of policies to put in place, it’s important to hear out all ideas and have a fair vote. A secure and streamlined board voting process can help ensure this. Additionally, it’s not only important to consumers that you have some sort of CSR program but that it seems genuine and aligned with your mission and values. Make sure your board considers this when making their final decision.

Learn how CSR is evolving

Watch our webinar with Mark Horoszowski Louise Bleach to understand the latest transformations.

Initiate a grant program

Depending on your organization’s community, it may also be a good idea to consider setting up a grant program for nonprofits. Matching gifts and volunteer grants can significantly increase funds for nonprofits and are excellent for getting your employees involved in philanthropy, but a grant program will allow you to contribute in a more substantial way. 

Here are some best practices to follow when creating a grant program:

  • Determine a balance between what you can afford to offer and what will be useful to an organization. 
  • Get a variety of opinions on the criteria a nonprofit must meet to apply for a grant.
  • Ensure that the application is shared with diverse communities.
  • Create a rubric to enforce fair judgment of the applications.
  • Use grant management software to protect sensitive information.

While volunteer grants and matching gifts give your employees the opportunity to engage with an organization they know and love while securing additional funding, grants don’t require your employees to donate first or spend time volunteering. Instead, they give you the opportunity to select and engage with different organizations in your community. 

Build external partnerships

Board members can use their connections in the community to help facilitate partnerships with nonprofits as part of your CSR program. By providing employees with ideas of where to donate and volunteer in the community and showing your dedication to supporting local businesses, organizations will ensure that your message does not ring hollow. 

At your next CSR strategizing meeting, have all of your board members come with a list of a few local organizations or programs that may be good for partnership. You can consider planning designated volunteering days for your company at some of these organizations or hosting a fundraising event together. Having your company’s name listed as a sponsor of a local community event can be an excellent way to increase brand awareness. 

Additionally, when the holidays roll around, there may be opportunities to do a temporary larger match offering for employees who donate or volunteer with specific local organizations that you’ve developed partnerships with. 

Building strong connections in your community is one of the most effective ways to build a strong brand name and increase name recognition. If you’re facing competition in your community, making your company name familiar to the whole community will establish you as the foremost option. 

Assess performance

While making the initial decision to implement a CSR program is great, it’s also important to evaluate your first set of policies. Your board can be responsible for analyzing any employee engagement metrics or survey responses and implementing changes as necessary.

A few key performance indicators (KPIs) they might consider tracking are:

  • How many employees took advantage of the new policies. Keep track of how many employees took action and participated in your CSR program. A high level of participation can indicate your policies have been well received whereas a lack of action may indicate that you haven’t made the policies clear or that they are not beneficial to employees.
  • Donations made through the matching gift and volunteer grant programs. If you have clearly explained your new corporate giving policies, ideally you will have employees actually submitting requests to get gifts matched or volunteer grants distributed. If you’re not seeing this, consider supplying employees with suggestions of organizations to volunteer with or donate to. 
  • Employee perception of the new policies through a survey. 58% of Americans consider a company’s social and environmental impact when deciding where they want to work according to these Crowd101 corporate giving statistics. With that in mind, you’ll want to make sure you assess your employees’ perceptions of your initiatives. Send out a survey to get feedback on the changes you’ve made. 
  • Progress made towards goals set. Having goals like getting X% of employees to participate in the volunteer grant program or securing X amount of community partnerships can help you gauge if your policies are actually tangibly changing anything at your business. 
  • Revenue changes since the implementation of the policies. Believe it or not, spending money on CSR can increase revenue over time! This is not a metric to measure immediately after you start your program, but over time, a successful CSR program can increase customer support and eventually, revenue. 
  • Changes in reputation with a customer survey. A survey is not only a smart way to measure employees’ perception of the workplace. Your customers are also an important point of feedback when it comes to your brand’s reputation. This survey can be used to measure how customers perceive your company and the work you do.

Understanding how your CSR program is performing is essential to crafting policies that actually have an impact and go beyond the surface. Remember, consumers want to see a genuine effort to engage in social good from your company. 

Corporate social responsibility is not a one-and-done kind of project. This will require ongoing effort from not only your board but your entire organization. As with any large project, it will be crucial for the team working on this to do their research in order to put our tips to use in the best way for your organization. 

There are a variety of ways for your company to engage with your community and show your dedication to being socially responsible. The most important thing to consider when working on these policies with your board is how they align with your mission and values. Authentic efforts will not only be easier to maintain but will also be more successful in fostering a positive brand image. 

Jeb Banner (Guest Writer)

Jeb is the founder and CEO of Boardable, a board management software provider for mission-driven boards. He is also the founder of two nonprofits, The Speak Easy and Musical Family Tree, as well as a board member of United Way of Central Indiana and ProAct. Jeb is based in Indianapolis, Indiana.