Without Internal Support, CSR Doesn’t Stand a Chance

Top corporate social responsibility programs all have one thing in common: they are ingrained into their company’s culture. But that doesn’t happen by accident. It takes a concerted effort. The first step is to build broad internal support from employees at every level of the company. 

For CSR professionals, building that internal support can feel like a daunting task. You have to find a way to give every employee a sense of ownership. You have to create initiatives that resonate with a broad audience, while also helping each employee feel like their specific values are reflected. All while making a business case to company leaders. 

The work is worth it. Because the effectiveness and success of CSR programs hinges on this support. Without it, CSR programs don’t have the lifeblood they need to survive. 

To build internal support, CSR professionals should aim to treat employees as experts, turn everyone into a CSR champion, and make an effort to evolve together. 

How internal support makes your job easier

As a CSR manager, your job is to own your CSR strategy and make decisions to move programs forward, but one person can’t do it all alone. As your CSR programs grow (which they will!), relying on others for support will make you and the programs more successful. 

CSR leaders across the industry are feeling the constraints of more responsibility without having access to more resources. According to the 4th annual report by ACCP, 77% of respondents said that their headcount stayed the same while even more respondents (86%) indicated that their team has more responsibilities than last year. And this increased demand is growing—up 6% from the previous year where 80% of people said they have more responsibilities. Leadership and the public are looking to you to create more impact than ever before without giving you the resources needed to accomplish it on your own or within a small team, which means finding internal support outside of your team is necessary.

As Patricia Toothman, social impact manager at Splunk, shares, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The success of our programs is really dependent on employees across the enterprise.”

Patricia Toothman, Social Impact Manager at Splunk

Gaining internal support also improves the “stickiness” or resiliency of your programs. When each employee feels connected to your CSR mission, the programs become a core part of the company identity. Once you achieve that, you won’t feel the pressure to constantly justify the existence of the CSR initiatives. You’ll be able to turn your attention to more strategic and creative work. 

Treat employees like experts

Thought leadership and expertise don’t just come from external sources; employees are essentially internal subject matter experts. Create opportunities for them to contribute to the conversation and bring their skills to the table. Listening to your employees increases internal buy-in and builds support from the ground up for your CSR programs. 

Employees can be experts in various ways:

  • They can volunteer or work with NPOs in their local community to understand their needs.
  • They often have more direct communication with customers and can bring that viewpoint to the conversation.
  • They are often part of the communities you’re trying to reach. 
  • They have a diverse range of skill sets to offer to your CSR efforts.

Build your program at every stage in a way that honors employees as experts. Include them from the beginning, using their ideas and feedback to help choose cause areas and shape processes. If you make all those big decisions yourself and then try to fold in employee feedback later, it can feel disingenuous and make people less likely to engage. 

Kari Niedfeldt-Thomas, managing director of corporate insights & engagement for CECP says, “Companies are quite clear, not only in this time when a number of employees have shifted roles, but that additionally, there is a tremendous amount of value if they’re listening to their employees. They’re able to stay on top of not only trends but what it is that they as a company should be focused on.”  

A powerful strategy is to create and nurture employee resource groups (ERGs) that align with specific CSR program areas or interests. ERGs are not just support networks; they are incubators for creativity and engagement in CSR initiatives. As highlighted by Jen Carter from Google.org, partnering closely with employees in CSR embodies their social impact philosophy of building “with”, not “for.” 

Jen Carter, Global Head of Technology & Volunteering at Google.org

“We try to partner really closely with employees, and especially with ERGs,” said Carter. “A philosophy that we use with the nonprofits that we work with is that we build ‘with,’ not ‘for.’ And I think I would say the same thing about our CSR programs overall and the way that we try to engage with ERGs and other employee groups. I think it helps tremendously in terms of getting that employee buy-in and investment in the work.”

By creating a sense of collective ownership over CSR among employees, you give them the agency to shape and execute CSR with you as active participants, rather than mere observers.

Create a team of CSR champions

If employees are engaged in CSR work, they become like extensions of your team. The most successful initiatives harness the diverse talents and passions that live within your organization. It all begins with giving them agency.

So much weight falls on small CSR teams: You’re running multiple programs that support multiple business initiatives, and it can be almost impossible for just a few people to manage. We heard from one CSR manager, “I am one person, and I have 10,000 employees across the country. I don’t have time to google opportunities or NPOs in each city across the country to make sure employees have hyper-local and relevant opportunities.” Especially as enterprises grow and expand—with employees in dispersed locations—keeping CSR programs relevant locally is almost impossible without people on the ground executing on your behalf.

Finding and developing relationships with local nonprofits can be much easier with local support. As a one- (or two, maybe five) person show, your job is to build the overarching program and larger partnerships, but you can rely on employees in local offices to help bring your vision to life in their communities. 

This is where that employee voice can come in—they know what is relevant, what is local, and what matters. Submittable customer Trulieve leaned into bringing their employee voice to the forefront of programs. Trulieve used Submittable to empower ERGs and community outreach teams to create volunteer opportunities themselves. Sarah Mitchell, CSR manager for Trulieve, explains, “Those individuals who are going out and getting involved, they’re building camaraderie not only within their own teams but with their communities. You really see this cycle of just positivity.” 

When working with impacted communities, your CSR efforts need to be grounded in empathy and relevance, and involve those communities. The same approach applies with CSR, in that your efforts need to involve employees in order to impact them. 

Still, there’s an important balance to strike between delegating and offloading. While CSR initiatives should be informed by those most affected, the responsibility for driving them forward should be shared across the broader organization. 

As Jen Carter notes, “This work can’t fall only on the shoulders of those impacted communities.” That’s why Google.org looks to ERGs and affected community members for ideas and priority setting, then brings their resources in to help. 

Assign clear roles and responsibilities, matching individuals’ strengths to the appropriate tasks. By doing so, you’ll create a cohort of empowered employees who can help execute your CSR initiatives. 

Celebrate successes and evolve together

The success of a CSR program isn’t measured solely in its impact on the community—it’s also measured in its impact on your organization. Celebrating successes, both big and small, is crucial to fostering a culture of appreciation for employee-driven CSR. It’s about shining a light on the individual and team achievements that contribute to the broader goals of CSR, reinforcing the value of every contribution.

Recognize individual and team accomplishments openly and publicly, to make sure that every team member feels valued and seen. This acknowledgment can take many forms, from company-wide meetings and newsletters to social media shoutouts and award ceremonies. The key is to recognize the diverse spectrum of contributions across your organization. By highlighting how each role and effort led to the successful outcome of a CSR initiative, companies can underscore the importance of everyone’s participation in CSR.

As Jaimie Vargas, head of social impact at Electronic Arts (EA), sees it, CSR should be a company’s “pride center”—a source of shared pride and motivation for everyone involved. More than just acknowledging what has been achieved, recognition of your CSR successes fuels momentum for ongoing and future programs, driving engagement and participation across the organization. 

Jaimie Vargas, Head of Global Social Impact at Electronic Arts

Beyond celebrations, there should be room in your CSR programs for reflection. Social impact is a moving target, and so there is always room to refine your approach. Employees should be part of that evolution. Their feedback is invaluable as you look to improve or expand programs. They can provide essential context and suggestions for how to make programs more inclusive, more accessible, more impactful, and more personally resonant for them. You just have to create the space for them to do so. 

The future of CSR is collaborative

Modern CSR is all about collective action. When diverse talents, perspectives, and strengths unite across an organization, we see truly transformative outcomes. By rallying together—across departments, alongside employee resource groups, and in partnership with the communities you aim to serve—you can forge a path toward more impactful, sustainable, and meaningful CSR initiatives.

Embracing this collaborative future, however, requires the right tools to bring your shared vision to life. This is where Submittable steps in, as a modern CSR software designed to support the goals of today’s uber-collaborative CSR teams. Submittable makes it easier to harness the collective energy and creativity of your organization to coordinate initiatives, track progress, and celebrate successes.
Discover how Submittable can support your CSR goals and help you create a lasting legacy of positive change.

Hsing Tseng

Hsing is a content marketer and ex-journalist who writes about tech, DEI, and remote work. Beyond the screen, she enjoys building custom mechanical keyboards and playing with her dog. You can find more of her work at hsingtseng.com.