Companies like to talk about their commitment to corporate social responsibility. Beyond the PR, though, they often show little understanding of how to design an appropriate CSR effort.
A few years back, as I checked out of a very nice 5-star hotel in eastern Europe, the front-desk agent asked whether I’d mind if he tacked an extra Euro to my bill. It was for charity, he said, and I acquiesced. After all, the trip was being reimbursed by a client and compared to the rate the hotel charged, an extra euro was hardly going to be noticed.
“What do you do with the money you collect?” I asked. The agent looked uncomfortable for a second, rooted around in a drawer, and handed me a brochure touting the charity program operated by the conglomerate that, among other things, owned the hotel. The brochure highlighted numerous good deeds - from repairing schools and donating textbooks, to refurbishing hospitals and donating medical equipment. The credit went to the hotel’s parent company and the generosity of its owner. There was no mention of hotel guests who, like me, chipped in at check-out.
While any effort at CSR is likely to have a positive effect, most companies simply don’t have a clue as to how to give back with a purpose. So long as the public and employees fail to question corporate plan, not much is likely to change.
Here are five quick tips that will go a long way toward separating intelligent CSR from the programs based on the CEO’s whim:
- Corporate social responsibility starts at home. Give employees fair compensation, meaningful benefits, and a safe, respectful workplace before saving orphans, trees, whales or take on a similar external project.
- Make your CSR activity relevant to your business. A hotel could donate bedding to a shelter for battered women or the homeless. A grocery store could work with a food pantry. A bank could support budgeting classes for low-income families.
- Brand it. Rather than contributing to another organizations event, create your own and brand it prominently. Holding “The Bayside Suites 10K Run” can still be a community event, but organizing it and prominently branding it will help the community and improve visibility in your community.
- Focus your efforts. It’s tough to turn away charities looking for your help, but if there’s a limit to what you can do, make a focused annual CSR plan, and stick with it. CSR isn’t about writing checks or collecting donations for the charity of the hour. The socially responsible company plans its giving just as it plans other expenses.
- Have fun! Participation in CSR activities should never be compulsory. Employees, vendors, and partners will want to participate once they understand the goal and see management demonstrate a genuine commitment to the communities the company serves.
Scott H. Lewis is a sales and customer service coach for Signature Europe.