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Corporate Social Responsibility, Social Impact, Sustainability…all terms used to describe how a company affects the world and the people in it. As the future of work evolves, younger generations become the lionshare of the workforce, and hybrid work becomes a new normal, a company’s purpose and values are quickly becoming how people choose where to work and shop.
But what do these terms actually mean? How does a company actually become “responsible”? How can they measure success?
If you’re asking these questions, you’re not alone. At Verbate, we work with companies asking these tough questions everyday. We’re here to demystify what actually goes into a CSR program, how to make sure yours is working successfully, and making employees and customers proud.
For now, we’ll use “CSR” as our go-to term to encompass the concept of a company’s impact on the world. Experts in this realm have been defining guidelines and best practices for decades for companies to follow.
The benefits of CSR are clear: higher employee engagement, consumer brand loyalty and positive economic returns. So, naturally, Fortune 100 companies have built dedicated CSR teams of 10-50 people to understand, activate and demonstrate impact. Large, public companies like Microsoft, PwC, Starbucks, Zoom, Nike, and Morningstar have set the standard for top-of-the-line CSR standards based on expert guidelines in order to optimize their impact and outcomes. Corporate Social Responsibility teams often consult resources like the UN SDG’s (Sustainable Development Goals), GRI (Global Reporting Initiative) Standards, The B Impact Assessment and academic institutions like Harvard Business School.
Luckily, we’ve done that same work for you.
Verbate has analyzed, audited and compiled the gold-standard guidelines for CSR as well as the impact reports from the top corporations with dedicated CSR teams. Based on those insights, we’ve distilled the four main pillars of a strong CSR program. Below is a summary of each and the focus areas.
Community is the cornerstone of any strong Corporate Social Responsibility program. By establishing trust and awareness within the communities your business impacts, you build relationships that strengthen employee engagement, retention and consumer loyalty. From a business perspective, all this extends to your “Triple Bottom Line.”
Giving direct funds to the communities your employees and customers care about demonstrates tangible action. Instead of cutting a big check to a big charity, donating to a community organization that serves a specific purpose in a specific community can have much greater impact and feels more authentic. Better yet, it gives your business tangible visibility as these organizations are often willing to thank corporate sponsors with social media posts, physical collateral and local press and content.
Fun fact: 92% of nonprofits in the U.S. are small, community organizations with less than $1M in annual budget.
Even more fun fact: Verbate’s platform connects your company directly to community organizations your employees care about and the initiatives they’d like to make happen, so you can support the perfect orgs directly (without hundreds of emails back and forth).
Mount Sinai sponsored the Park Slope Fifth Avenue BID’s Holiday Tree Lighting in Brooklyn, New York. By supporting this community organization’s initiative, Mount Sinai is reaching a neighborhood they’re interested in raising awareness of their services in and seeing their support make a tangible difference in the community by helping spur small business shopping during the holidays. This gives their Corporate Social Responsibility program a tangible, authentic outlet.
Volunteering has long been a great way to involve your employees in your Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. Typically, volunteer efforts have enabled employees to attend a community event a company organizes or donate their own time. In today’s remote work world, though, we hear more than ever that skills-based volunteering is the future. This lets employees use their skills to help organizations they align with. For example, a product designer could help rebuild a website, a marketer could help plan a social media campaign, or a legal associate could help review a contract.
This aligns well with helping those 92% of smaller, community-oriented organizations we mentioned in the last section since they’re often operating with smaller teams, budgets and need the extra pair of skilled hands.
Another fun fact: Verbate’s platform gives your employees a way to connect to opportunities for skills-based volunteering and community orgs that need their help.
NOoSphere Arts is a public art 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to public art programming. They found a volunteer accountant on Verbate’s platform passionate about public art and eco-focused projects to spend a few hours reviewing a grant application they were working on.
Socially Responsible companies that think deeply about their values and purpose sometimes build custom programs unique to their business offerings. These programs can take a lot of time, effort and coordination (internal teams etc.) but often go a long way in terms of showing that a company really cares about Corporate Social Responsibility. These CSR programs often leverage a business' natural advantages or existing business practices.
Zoom’s “Summer Academy” program over the summer of 2021 equipped 35,000 teachers with the skills, tools and resources to teach remotely during the COVD-19 pandemic.
How a company treats its employees and builds a healthy, productive workplace for them is a critical part of Corporate Social Responsibility strategy, especially today as so many in-person perks are no longer relevant in today’s hybrid-work world (gone are the days of ping-pong tables defining culture). Today’s workforce cares about purpose, values and impact.
Having a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace is key to hiring, engaging and retaining employees. Today employees and customers are demanding DE&I practices that are tangible, measurable and actionable. Put simply, feeling included and acknowledged in a workplace is more important than ever as hybrid and remote work leads to fundamental changes in company culture and employee engagement.
Accenture’s program sets them up as an authority on internal and external DE&I practices through consistent reporting, benchmarking and measurability. They provide both qualitative and quantitative reporting on their efforts, making it feel personal and tangible.
Employee Resources Groups are becoming more and more powerful as they empower employees to connect, communicate and collaborate with their colleagues on shared identities, causes and initiatives they care deeply about. This creates a ‘bottom-up’ dynamic to Corporeate Social Responsibility goals rather than a ‘top-down’ directive.
LinkedIn is one of many public tech companies to invest more resources in Employee Resource Groups by giving them $10,000 a year, recognizing the value in empowering employees directly to improve company culture, openness and transparency.
Fair pay and benefits are more important than ever, and with more standards, regulation and calls for action, companies are facing a reckoning to deliver on CSR promises. With the future of work constantly evolving, how to compensate employees and provide them with benefits that feel personal and flexible is key to keeping them satisfied. Benefits like maternity leave, paternity leave, PTO and work-from-home stipends are quickly becoming table stakes as employees consider what a healthy work-life balance looks like for them.
L'Oréal USA has been praised for its commitment to accountability when it comes to pay-equity. Recently they became the first company to receive Edge Plus Certification of pay equity across gender, race, ethnicity, age, ability and LGBTQ identity. The third-party auditing system was introduced at the World Economic Forum in 2011.
Benefits is a rapidly developing space as well, especially as companies look to combat burnout from remote work. For example, several companies, including dating app Bumble, have introduced company-wide PTO weeks.
Employees today are weighing their options more than ever when it comes to where they work next, and career development and advancement is on the top of their list. Gone are the days where ‘lifers’ worked at companies for decades. Today’s workforces need to know their employer can offer them advancement. This can come in the form of diverse project opportunities, learning budgets for incremental classes and programs, and/or leadership training programs.
“Accelerate Adobe Life,” has often been used as an example of a thoughtful, comprehensive career development program where regular check-ins and reviews make sure employees can advance in their careers.
So much of what is covered in this overview of Corporate Social Responsibility intersects and contributes to culture. Workplace culture is defined by practices, programs and efforts to connect to employees, make them feel heard and help them advance their careers. All in all, it comes down to creating an inclusive space for employees to thrive.
It’s no coincidence that many of the companies that have invested in the four ‘pillars’ of Corporate Social Responsibility we’ve covered here rank high on company culture metrics and ‘best of’ lists - Adobe, Zoom, L’Oreal to name a few.
Millennials and Gen Z list environmental concerns as a top priority so it’s no surprise it’s a core consideration of a modern Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. A company’s environmental impact plays a role in what these generations consume, brands they trust and jobs they consider. As a result, many companies are taking stances and making CSR promises on how they’re going to have a positive environmental impact.
Many companies are measuring their carbon footprint and making an active effort to reduce or offset it. This is one of the most common ways to benchmark a company’s environmental impact. The world of carbon measurement and offsetting is a complex, still evolving field, but many companies have made commitments they are actively working towards.
Fun Fact: Carbon removal (or sequestration) is a different process altogether, focused on removing carbon already in the atmosphere.We see some companies focusing on this rather than offsets. More on that below.
Nike has set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 65% by 2030 in its owned and operated spaces. They’ve set standards according to third party guidelines like the Science Based Targets initiatives, which calls on companies to set the pace for a zero-carbon economy, and provide updates on their progress.
Stripe has focused more on carbon removal, committing $8M to companies focused on this cause as part of the Stripe Climate Program. Stripe had dedicated resources to activating these programs, as well researching them as many are in nascent stages.
Preserving natural resources like water, land and wildlife is a central fixture of Corporate Social Responsibility for many companies, especially those with a significant presence over large, physical spaces. As you can probably tell from now, many forms of CSR are often about balancing potentially negative consequences one’s business might have had on the world previously.
Disney has dedicated considerable resources through its Conservation Fund to saving wildlife given its environmental impact and footprint through its parks. They’re working with 50 conservation organizations to protect 100 species across 25 countries as part of their environmentally-focused CSR programming.
Greener supply chains have proven to be better not just for the environment but also for a business’ bottom line. As customers and employees demand accountability when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility, more and more companies are doubling down on re-examining how to make their supply chain more efficient and environmentally friendly.
Beyond Meat has worked a green supply chain into its product design and packaging.
Compared to traditional meat products, its products use 99% less water and 93% less land, and emit 90% less greenhouse gas. This has proven not just to be part of their CSR program, but also part of their brand strategy, product positioning and differentiation.
Business ethics at its core includes the internal structures of how your company operates, structures leadership, and transparently reports these decisions back to stakeholders. How thoughtful, intentional ethical each of these business considerations are is a critical input to Corporate Social Responsibility.
A company’s governance at its most basic level has to do with how a business, quite literally, governs itself. This includes its leadership structure and decisions, adherence to regulations, its board operation and transparency about these intersecting components.
PwC has outlined its own framework for governance that it follows and encourages other companies to use as guidance in their own CSR programming. This includes components like how to structure effective, transparent boards and documenting internal procedures and reporting methods.
Apple has taken a hard stance on data privacy in recent times, making it a cornerstone of its product positioning and strategy. It’s integrated this philosophy into the public messaging on each of its flagship products and features, from the web browsing to messaging to intelligent assistants to maps, Apple continuously reiterates its commitment to protecting user data and privacy.
Consumers have ranked Financial Services as the most trusted industry when it comes to their privacy (along with healthcare). Financial services, like FinTech company Betterment, have played a part in this by making their privacy policies accessible, digestible, transparent, comprehensive, and proactive.
The actual product a company creates, whether physical or digital, is a key part of their business ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility approach. For some products it may be a bit more obvious how impact plays a part in their ethics, but for any productif leadership creates a thoughtful strategy from the get-go, their product should fit thoughtfully into their CSR programming and strategy.
TOMS has made the production of the shoes - from the materials it uses to its donations per purchase - a central art of its product strategy, and therefore its CSR. Its brand loyalty and employer engagement is built around this central commitment to sustainable and ethical production.
How a service or product from your company comes to be in the world is critical to determining the state of your business ethics. This includes labor practices, policies and adherence to regulations. This has always been critical to Corporate Social Responsibility, ever since it was first taking hold as a key business concept amid the Industrial Revolution
It’s no secret that big companies, especially big tech companies, have faced backlash for their practices over the years. Microsoft has been able to build its reputation as a more socially responsible company due its commitment to farrier labor, product and sustainability practices. Especially since it has both software and hardware components to its business, a nuanced approach to this aspect of CSR is critical.
Transparency intersects many of these pillars and focus areas of Corporate Social Responsibility, so it is integral to the success of any CSR program. By transparently reporting your efforts, initiatives, successes and failures, this shows that you are holding your company accountable for the CSR goals you’ve set.
Patagonia has focused its product and strategy around a commitment to sustainability. Through their blog, the company regularly documents their efforts, both successful and unsuccessful, to show their commitment to a transparent approach. Transparency is a key component of trust with all stakeholders of your CSR strategy - from employees or customers to investors to the public at-large.
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