Corporate social responsibility programs are voluntary—you won’t find Big Brother knocking on your boardroom door with a list of must-haves for community or environmental accountability. However, doing good tends to be good for business, including potential for improved reputation, productivity, loyalty, and reduced business risk. Tweet This

Plus, business tends to be better when society is thriving.

What is corporate social responsibility or CSR?

There’s no universally accepted definition of CSR, but there are common elements to most definitions, including a focus on people and the planet.

An article in the Harvard Business Review calls CSR “the broad goal, simply, of contributing to the well-being of the communities and society [that companies] affect and on which they depend.” The definition in ISO 26000 (the social responsibility standard) says that the objective of social responsibility is to contribute to sustainable development.

If you’re new to corporate social responsibility here’s a simple five-step process to get help get you started.

Setting up your first program

Step 1: Dream it

Your first task is to set the vision.

Link the program to your company’s “why statement” (see Simon Sinek’s TED Talk for more on the “why”) to ensure it is authentic and aligns with your company’s purpose and values. Don’t forget to engage your employees in your dreaming. They can be a great resource for both big picture and practical ideas for your program and will root your CSR vision in your company’s culture—which is a big reason why people choose to join and stay with a business.

Consider starting with Human Trafficking. If you have suppliers overseas or countries that are high-risk areas for human trafficking, you could commit to keeping it out of your supply chain.

Step 2: Document it

Make the dream feel real by documenting it. Think beyond the standard Word doc. Photos, videos and infographics will document your CSR vision in a way that’s accessible to different learners and, when it comes to step 3, more interesting to share.

Step 3: Share it

A good corporate social responsibility program is transparent, so consider putting your vision out there—for example on your website and in your employee training manuals, RFPs, corporate reports and more.

Step 4: Live it

This is where you keep the dream real, through both policy and practice.

Start small, so you can walk your talk. Document what you’re already doing. Piggyback on existing activities and remember you don’t have to do it all yourself—team up with other organizations and investigate programs that do some of the work for you.

An interesting resource is xocial (pronounced soh-shuhl), an online platform that connects people to causes and inspires them to take action. Companies can create a free campaign to engage employees, suppliers, customers and even the community in challenges that accomplish CSR goals. The platform gamifies philanthropy and measures impact—and it’s an out-of-the-box solution.

Step 5: Talk about it

Promote your activities, partners and results internally and externally—and be honest. Not every CSR activity will get the results you were hoping for. In those cases, share what you learned and what you’re going to do about it. Also, choose strategic times to evaluate your program overall. What do you want to keep doing? Add? Ditch?

Then start again at Step 1.

Helpful resources:

  1. Global Reporting Initiative
  2. World Business Council for Sustainable Development
  3. Why Every Company Needs a CSR Strategy and How to Build It – Harvard Business School 2012
  4. Doing Business in a New Climate – David Suzuki Foundation 2010

If you’re a supplier, learn more about Dun & Bradstreet Human Trafficking Index and how you could use it to help make your company more socially responsible.

Photo Credit: luluthechi, Twenty20