The role of a CSR professional is more than a facilitator. According to Jaimie Vargas, head of social impact at Electronic Arts, CSR professionals must be bridge-builders.
In practice, that means CSR professionals need to focus on bridging the gaps between their leadership team, employees, and the communities they serve. Because the greater the distance between these groups, the more difficult it will be to create effective CSR programs.
At their core, successful CSR initiatives help employees feel more connected to the causes they care about and to their company as a whole. When CSR managers build bridges within and outside of their organization, they ultimately drive greater transformation.
Close the gap between executives and employees
A gap often grows between leadership and employees, creating a disconnect between CSR strategy and CSR initiatives. This disconnect can arise from a lack of effective feedback loops within your organization. Employees might lack clear channels to voice their perspectives, while leadership might struggle to interpret and respond to these insights. Also, the natural distance between executives and employees on an org chart can create a perception of inaccessibility, and top-down structure.
Closing this gap is pivotal for fostering an authentic and effective CSR program. Establish safe spaces like employee resource groups (ERGs) or open forums where employees can freely express their ideas and expectations regarding CSR. CSR professionals in particular can ensure that employee feedback is heard, acknowledged, and acted upon by leadership.
On the leadership end, use internal comms like regular updates, town hall meetings, or even company newsletters that highlight the progress and impact of your CSR initiatives. Your role is to take the big-vision aspects of CSR, and make them real for everyone on the ground floor.
Foster transparency, alignment, and mutual understanding to create a thriving CSR program where everyone can contribute. It’s all about opening a two-way bridge of communication, allowing leaders and employees to gain insight into each other’s desires for what CSR should look like.
By closing the gap, CSR professionals can help their companies create initiatives that employees actually care about, and build programs that are more meaningful and engaging for all. Also, as employees gain a deeper understanding of the “why” behind your CSR vision, they’ll be more likely to take part in the “how.” CSR programs are more effective when your employees can champion those causes to effect change within and outside the organization.
Make CSR feel personal
Instead of top-down initiatives, CSR should let employees lead the way. Start by recognizing and supporting employee “care-abouts”—the causes and initiatives that matter to them.
“People are very generous. Employees have passions. They have things that they’re really excited about,” says Vargas. “And so they want to use their time, their talent, their financial heft, their voice to advocate and create change and invest in the things that they care about.”
The role of CSR is to help employees channel their desire to contribute towards social impact. Everyone wants to make a difference in the world. As CSR managers, the challenge lies in harnessing this desire and providing the right kind of structure to support it.
Find out what causes resonate with your employees, and then create avenues for them to contribute to these causes. Whether it’s a company-wide drive for a local food bank, matching employee gifts for a local nonprofit, or volunteering as a company to plant trees together, provide employees with the platform and resources to actively engage with the community.
When employees see the company invest in the causes that they care about, they feel it on a personal level. It also reflects your commitment to the wellbeing and passions of your employees, and transforms the role of CSR from a company-directed initiative into a shared mission that empowers everyone involved.
Create opportunities for everyone to get involved
Creating compelling opportunities for employee engagement in CSR initiatives doesn’t mean imposing them. The key to truly successful CSR lies in the voluntary participation of employees—emphasis on “voluntary,” not “voluntold.”
The spirit of CSR diminishes when employee participation becomes a mandate rather than a choice. Instead, offer a range of CSR initiatives that are well-aligned with employees’ interests, so that employees can choose to participate in the initiatives that they’re genuinely passionate about. Ensure that you provide opportunities that appeal to both first-time volunteers and well-seasoned ones, lowering the barrier to entry. This approach increases employee satisfaction, while also reinforcing the authenticity and impact of your CSR strategy.
Vargas encourages CSR professionals to think of employees as co-creators, builders, and designers collaborating with their social impact teams on how CSR programs take shape.
“We want to build the capacity of employees to step up and want to engage in a deeper, perhaps more meaningful way,” says Vargas. “And so we have to be willing to take some risks, try some things out and pilot and test that may not work, and be willing to accept that there may be fewer line items on the spreadsheet, but the end result may be more transformational and actually move the needle further in that larger outcome of what we want to achieve in the community.”
With Submittable’s CSR software, employees have the freedom to create and manage their own volunteering and giving events, fostering a sense of ownership and personal connection to the initiatives they champion. Instead of merely participating, employees actively drive your CSR agenda, using their passions and creativity to make a difference in the community.
Make authenticity your #1 priority
Great CSR is more than a token gesture. It’s a way for companies to translate their values into actions. By driving genuine employee involvement, businesses solidify their commitment to doing the right things.
“When you say to an employee, ‘We want you to bring your best self to work and show up authentically in the way that you are,’ this is a way of actually making those kinds of statements real,” says Vargas. “Giving employees an important outlet to put their passion and their actions into practice that is both beneficial to the communities that we’re seeking to serve and support, and returning value to the business.”
Part of showing up authentically is embracing the complexity of social good, and recognizing that businesses don’t have all the answers right away. It’s a commitment to ongoing learning and collaboration with stakeholders. It’s understanding that genuine impact often emerges from prioritizing trust-based relationships with employees, nonprofits, and communities.
CSR should be all about making a tangible difference and helping employees to show up authentically. It’s an ongoing journey, not a fixed destination. Meaningful change takes time, and we all need to to engage—and keep engaging—in order to improve the world we live in.
Bridge building is just one role of CSR
Beyond forging connections, CSR professionals serve as a driving force for positive change and social impact within organizations and communities. They shape the employee experience, empowering individuals to be agents of social change in their professional and personal lives.
For a more in-depth exploration of how CSR acts as a bridge-builder, delve into our Impact Studio panel discussion. Jaimie Vargas sits down with four other CSR leaders to share profound insights into CSR strategy and the pivotal role employee engagement plays.To see firsthand how Submittable’s Give and Volunteer products empower employees to initiate their own CSR initiatives, take a guided tour of our platform through a live demo.