The impact of an organization’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives on employee engagement is gaining recognition. However, to make initiatives successful internal communicators can play an important role in overcoming skepticism, making CSR a priority, driving change and creating structure.
Very often organizations struggle to create a consistent strategy for CSR, gain commitment on initiatives, enroll and sustain interest among volunteers and last but not least, communicate periodically. To be effective, internal communicators are expected to understand industry trends, listen to what volunteers want, revisit current communication practices and recommend approaches that work.
Studying industry trends
For example, research reports indicates that ‘generation next’ actively seek organizations that engage on CSR and provide avenues for staff to volunteer for corporate social responsibility programs. Are the communication messages aimed at your staff making it inclusive for this group? Likewise, studies report that employee volunteerism is seen as an opportunity to build community and leadership skills. Again, how often is that message reflected in your communication?
In a study by the Oxford University’s Saïd Business School on corporate social responsibility in India about 77 % of the Indian companies reported corporate or employee volunteering although none had formal procedures in place. Also 17% of the companies surveyed in India had a written CSR policy while more than 80 percent of the surveyed companies engage in CSR programs If your organization is looking at keeping your initiatives consistent it helps to have documented process, checklists and templates that empower local teams.
Proposed legislature to get companies to invest in corporate social responsibility effort in India has received attention. The 2012 Indian Union budget had made references to incorporating elements of corporate social responsibility in the Companies Bill. It prescribes that every company having a net worth of INR 500 crore or more, or a turnover of INR 1,000 crore or more, or a net profit of INR 5 crore or more during any financial year shall set up a CSR committee, which would guide and monitor the company’s CSR agenda and expenditure. Companies meeting this criterion are also expected to spend at least 2% of their average net profits made during the three previous financial years towards CSR activities.
Furthermore, there is a need to disclose the CSR policy including reasons for not meeting the required expenditure was called for. Organizations are called to invest in the PM’s National Relief Fund and certain other funds of the central and state governments. It defines that organizations focus on themes that impact the nation – such as eradicating hunger, promoting education or health, ensuring environmental sustainability. Even the Indian Prime Minister outlined a 10 point social charter which calls out responsibilities of organizations and the sensitivities to consider while growing profits.
The country’s Ministry of Corporate Affairs likewise shared 9 broad national voluntary guidelines for businesses to align their effort for better impact, enhance their competiveness, increase ability to be an attractive employer and be relevant for their stakeholders and society. The themes covering social, economic and environmental ownership are: ethics, transparency, accountability; safe and sustainable goods and services; well-being of employees; responsiveness to all stakeholders; promoting human rights; protecting the environment; responsible policy advocacy; supporting inclusive development; providing value to customer.
All these trends have the potential to shape how organizations direct their CSR effort and conduct volunteering initiatives in line with their corporate strategy and hence important to study and imbibe.
Knowing where and how to invest in CSR initiatives
A lot of organizations spread their effort widely hoping to make a difference on a wide range of issues. This dilutes the impact of the effort and there is a need for a framework that makes decision making simpler. A IBM study recommends that organizations can move up the value graph and maximize returns by integrating their CSR effort with their core business strategy.
Another study, a McKinsey report – ‘Shaping the Future: Solving Social Problems through Business Strategy: Pathways to Sustainable Value Creation in 2020.’ shares practical ways for organizations to identify where to invest their energies the emphasis is on focusing on picking areas that give the firm a competitive edge in the process. This can be relevant for CSR teams to enable decision making. Other tips include gathering information on evolving trends in legislation, scanning media reports and interviewing internal and external stakeholders. This is to be followed by scoping the issues, identifying which ones to tackle and investing effort to create a win-win situation for all stakeholders.
In Forbes’s study seven in ten say they would rather support fewer causes with a deeper relationship than a broad range of causes with less engagement. By focusing on less companies want to be experts in lesser areas instead of diluting effort. IBM’s analysis identifies three dynamics that companies are to understand and act upon while engaging with CSR – a) adding value by impacting business; b) transforming information via transparency and c) growing relationships through engagement.
Internal communication strategies to engage staff on CSR and employee volunteering
To effectively connect staff with the CSR priorities the studies point to several strategies that can enable organizations achieve their goals.
Invest in charities where your staff can volunteer.
It always helps to think about your staff’s time and effort and then map charities to the need of the hour. Forbes’ study discusses that companies anticipate volunteer hours will increase over the next year highlighting the crucial part manpower plays in CSR. In fact, 72% say that they primarily make donations to causes that will allow their employees to volunteer.
Choose your internal communications vehicles wisely.
Be selective about the vehicles of internal communications based on cost effectiveness, timeliness, and reach and impact. According to a Tower Perrin’s study, intranet communication is preferred due to access, speed, ease and cost effectiveness. Feature leaders broadly in communication since messages are recognized when given my senior executives.
Understand what staff, especially Generation Next, want.
With the number of young staff choosing organizations based on the firm’s CSR effort and willing to volunteer time and effort for social causes it becomes imperative to connect their needs with the demands of charities. In India, Generation Next are keen to volunteer since it helps “build character”, “looks nice on the CV”, “gets appreciation from friends and family” and is a “great exposure”. This is relevant for internal communicators as it helps them craft their messages to suit what audiences expect.
Make running CSR initiatives and volunteering easy.
It helps to have simple formats and templates for internal teams to manage their own local office programming. The templates can cover topics such as ‘how to evaluate the potential and impact of an initiative’, ‘how to conduct a volunteering event’ and ‘checklist for volunteers’. Have a core steering committee that oversees the company’s overall CSR strategy and allows autonomy for local offices to manage volunteering and giving.
Let me know what you think. I am keen to hear of other best practices and approaches that have worked for you or believe will be useful for other organizations to follow. Share them here.