How To Make CSR More Than Just a Marketing Initiative

Here's how to elevate your business by using CSR as a marketing tool and so much more.

CSR is an essential component of many business strategies. This has long been used as an impactful way for corporations to develop a positive brand image among consumers in order to drive sales. But if your company is solely utilizing CSR as a marketing tool, you’re likely missing out on a range of additional benefits that come alongside it.

Before we jump into the importance of CSR as more than a marketing initiative, let’s review the basics.

What Is CSR?

CSR stands for corporate social responsibility. According to our Double the Donation guide on the topic, “is a term used to describe a company’s efforts to improve society in some way.”

The idea relates closely to that of corporate philanthropy and giving directly to nonprofits making a difference in the world. At the same time, CSR also encapsulates environmental leadership (reducing carbon emissions, prioritizing recyclable resources), ethical labor practices (e.g., providing competitive salary and benefits packages to employees), and economic responsibility (such as keeping up with taxes and staying above-board with finances).

In this guide, we’ll explore the key reasons why tons of companies are prioritizing corporate social responsibility in their business plans and cover a few of the most impactful ways to get started doing so by answering the following two questions:

Ready to learn more about being a socially responsible corporation? Here’s what you need to know!

What other advantages does CSR offer businesses?

Thinking of CSR as a marketing tool essentially overshadows the tons of other benefits companies utilizing the strategy tend to see. These advantages include (but are not limited to!) things like:

1. Job Engagement and Satisfaction

Incorporating CSR in your company’s overall business model is also a fantastic way to substantially increase employees’ engagement levels with their jobs and workplaces. In fact, the main drivers of employee engagement are an individual’s relationship with and belief in company leadership as well as their pride in the company itself. And CSR participation can play a huge role in all of those factors!

Once engaged, employees are significantly more productive in the workplace while also having higher levels of personal satisfaction.

That’s because when employees know that leadership supports the causes they care about (whether that’s through nonprofit donations, environmental responsibility, sustainable practices, and more), team members will feel more invested in the business and in playing their own roles as effectively as possible.

2. Culture and Relationship-Building

Ensuring a positive workplace culture and developing strengthened interpersonal relationships between employees, managers, and company leaders is a high priority for many businesses⁠—and for a good reason.

CSR-focused events such as team fundraisers and nonprofit volunteerism can provide excellent opportunities for employees and leadership to get to know one another in an out-of-office environment. It’s no wonder many businesses utilize volunteer opportunities as team-building activities!

3. Employee Retention

Building off the ideas of CSR leading to increased employee satisfaction and engagement, companies participating in corporate social responsibility also tend to see significantly elevated rates of employee retention year over year. And the concepts are related⁠—individuals who are highly engaged in their companies are less likely to go from one workplace to another, rather opting to stay with the same business for years on end.

At the same time, much of the workforce at large is switching jobs at higher rates than ever before. The idea that individuals want to work for socially responsible companies is at the forefront of many minds. If your company is already participating in these ideals, your staff will be less likely to seek out these initiatives elsewhere.

4. Attracting New Talent

More than likely, your business is constantly on the lookout for new talent to join your team. This might mean recruiting younger generations of individuals joining the workforce for the first time or attracting team members from other companies. Either way, CSR initiatives can play a huge role in your level of success.

We already mentioned that millions of individuals are seeking employment with CSR-focused companies. In fact, Forbes reports that over 78% of millennials indicated that a company’s corporate social responsibility directly impacts whether or not they would work for the organization.

Again, employees want to work for businesses they feel positively about, and they want to know that their own contributions to their employers’ bottom lines are being used for good. By highlighting your company’s social impact from the beginning, you can draw highly competitive candidates to your business and through the application and onboarding processes.

5. Charity and Philanthropy

Another key benefit of corporate philanthropy is philanthropy itself.

While many company-made donations see significant marketing benefits to the businesses contributing them, positive attention and increased sales are certainly not the only motivators behind corporate giving.

Don’t forget that, like yourself, there are real people behind the CSR efforts of these companies⁠—large and small. And these people see an opportunity to make a difference on a cause that they (or their employees) care about.

Corporate giving research shows that businesses’ philanthropic efforts are continually on the rise. In total, companies gave more than $21 billion to charitable causes in the past year, increasing over 13.4% from the previous twelve months. In fact, the top ten corporations alone donate more than $2 billion to nonprofit organizations each year.

Just think about what those dollars are able to do for the nonprofits on the receiving end of corporate donations. For charities of all shapes and sizes, company contributions can make a significant difference in their mission and vision for the world.

What can I do to drive CSR benefits at my company?

Now you understand why CSR is essential for your business, and you’re ready to do what you can to elevate the positive impacts on your company. But what are some tangible steps you can take to get there?

Here are a few tried-and-true best practices:

1. Let employees choose nonprofit recipients.

Corporate philanthropy⁠—and specifically, donations to nonprofits—will likely be a significant component of your CSR strategy. Keep in mind, however, that the specific organizations you support can have a direct impact on your company’s success.

As the leader of your company, you could potentially dictate the causes that your corporate dollars will be funneled toward. However, you’re likely to see significantly greater benefits should you encourage employees to have a real say in the process.

For this reason, many companies invest in workplace or employee giving programs that allow individual team members to take an active role in the causes their employer supports. Two common examples of these program types are matching gifts and volunteer grants. In both cases, a company’s employees kick off giving by contributing their own time or money to the charities of their choice, which the company then “matches” in terms of corporate donations.

This strategy gives individual employees a hands-on part in their company’s philanthropy and overall CSR.

Still, you might decide to opt for a custom or one-off matching gift program instead as a way to ease into employee giving and overall social responsibility. In that case, your company would select a particular nonprofit to support, but engage your staff in the giving opportunity nonetheless by rallying around the cause together.

2. Incentivize workplace giving participation.

Offering to give corporate dollars to employees’ favorite charities is a significant incentive in and of itself. However, if you want to further drive participation in these giving programs, we recommend incorporating a number of fun incentives and rewards for employees who partake.

This may include offering additional paid time off to participate in CSR initiatives, creating badges and awards to recognize workplace giving participants (and leverage a sense of healthy competition), or setting clear goals⁠—such as by dollar amounts raised or percentage of team members participating⁠—with pre-determined prizes at various levels.

More than likely, your employees will be happy to take part in your new CSR and corporate giving efforts, and adding a little extra push can be just what they need to make the leap.

3. Make staff participation as simple as possible.

In order to encourage staff to participate in your CSR initiatives (and particularly workplace giving programs), it’s a good idea to simplify participation as much as possible.

Make sure employees are provided with detailed and step-by-step instructions to help guide them through the process from beginning to end. We also recommend ensuring there are as many ways for team members to participate as possible.

In terms of matching employee donations, for example, it’s important that you agree to match all sorts of gifts⁠—including ones made on a nonprofit’s website, through direct mail, via a peer-to-peer platform, etc. The more options an individual has to make their initial donation, the more likely they will follow through with the giving process, and the more positive their overall giving experience will be.

Whether you’re launching a CSR initiative at your company for the first time or you’re aiming to expand and develop existing efforts, starting with a solid foundation for the purpose of corporate social responsibility is a must.

When you incorporate the above tips and steps into your CSR business plan, you’ll begin seeing the highlighted benefits making a tangible impact on your employees, nonprofits around you, and the world as a whole⁠—not to mention your own bottom line.

Find out more about CSR, corporate giving, and other mission-driven business strategies with these additional resources:

Find out how to increase your company's corporate philanthropy!