Corporate social responsibility has a number of conflicting definitions. To some, it is political and social activism by corporations. To others, CSR is charitable giving by companies intended to benefit the community. Corporate social responsibility can take a variety of forms. It may mean setting up programs intended to hire the disadvantaged or it may take the form of charitable giving programs. Let’s learn more about the options companies have when they choose to exercise corporate social responsibility and how they can make the most of it. Here are four ideas for getting started with corporate social responsibility.
Advertise What You as a Company Already Do
Does your company allow employees a paid day off to volunteer? You can advertise that fact in job postings to Millennials that love to work for companies that support them this way. Does your company organize volunteering trips for employees? That’s another plus if it is a charitable cause they endorse. If you’re not doing this, consider starting. Just be realistic in your expectations. Hold a food drive, but don’t expect to wipe out hunger in your community. On the flip side, you shouldn’t push employees to sacrifice, especially without regard for their current situation. It is unfair to pressure people to give up their only weekend with their kids because a manager wants to be able to say everyone came to the Habitat for Humanity construction project. And it is wrong for managers to push someone to donate money when they’re struggling themselves.
Donate to Various Causes
Corporate social responsibility often takes the form of charitable giving. It might be money, but that isn’t the only thing you have to give. For example, setting up a program to donate still edible food to food banks or other institutions feeding hungry people will do a world of good. Hotels might donate unopened containers of soap, shampoo and lotion to homeless shelters or food banks. A clothing retailer may be reluctant to donate name brand clothes to a charity that sells them second-hand, but few people will notice if the off-brand socks or hats you donated were officially haute couture.
You can take things one step farther by working with your customers. For example, a toy company can not only donate excess inventory but set up toy collection bins. You might get customers to buy new toys from the store to donate to the charity, adding to that which you were already going to donate.
Work with a tax professional if you don’t have one in-house to maximize your charitable tax write-off. You might need to take steps to ensure that you’re donating to a verified 501(c) (3) charity. For example, it might be necessary to get a receipt when you donate office supplies to the school, rather than simply showing up with boxes of pencils and pads of paper that a teacher requested.
Set up a Cause-Based Marketing Program
Cause-based marketing is when you market a product based on the charitable causes it supports. For example, Bandcamp, a website where musicians can upload and sell their music directly to fans, waives their share of sales on Fridays to allow the full proceeds to go directly to the artist. This allows the artist to get fully compensated for their work and helps with some of the burden of being an independent musician. By advertising this fact, they’ve increased sales while getting essentially free publicity.
There are additional benefits to cause-based marketing. First, it automatically generates goodwill and positive social media mentions. Second, it can increase sales by making customers feel like they’re making a donation with the purchase. Third, it is very easy to get high “authority” mentions by the press. For example, search engines don’t give corporate press releases much weight. That’s especially true if they’re plastered on article directories or repeated across the web. On the other hand, a reporter doing a story on your charitable giving to benefit a given cause is given additional weight by search engines. Furthermore, their social media sharing of the link gives your brand more weight with search engines. These stories will appear ahead of general chatter about the brand. You’ll want to share these news stories on your website. The stories show that your company cares, and the authentic source has extra weight with your readers.
If your company is setting up a charitable giving program or planning a short-term cause-based marketing blitz like breast cancer awareness for October, then reach out to reporters in advance. You could get constructive feedback on the plans, and you’ll generate media buzz in advance of it. That’s free publicity that will improve the overall outcome. Don’t forget to announce how you did at the end of the campaign as well as advertise its launch.
Brag about What Your Employees Are Already Doing
Ask your employees what they’re already doing to support various causes. Maybe your engineers are teaching kids STEM by overseeing the FIRST Robotics team at the local high school. Perhaps the head of payroll is showing up at the AARP tax advisory sessions every April, or your older executives are providing free advice through the SCORE program. You won’t know until you ask.
Once you’ve asked, you can give them a shout out in the company newsletter. This reinforces the idea that your employees can and should volunteer for various causes. If they’re donating blankets to Project Linus or coaching the local Little League team, give them kudos for that, too. You’ll encourage such efforts at no cost to yourself.
The next step would be assisting them in these efforts. Management needs to prioritize what causes they may aid and the value of doing so. However, you might make a world of difference by donating unused building supplies to Scouts building benches and birdhouses in the community. Or you might donate office supplies to the local school supply drive that someone in your company already managed. Small gifts like this are a big deal to small charities. And it shows that the company is supporting its employees and the causes they care about. These actions may be reported to the media or shared on social media. But they will always result in positive word of mouth marketing in the community.
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