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Why Corporate Social Responsibility Strategies Are At The Core Of Restarting Your Business (Video)

As the perspective of the lockdown being at least partially lifted is becoming more likely, so is the beginning of a ‘new reality’ in the business world and beyond. The question is, what’s next? Ensuring you have strong social impact and corporate social responsibility strategies is a key part of the restart and recovery of your business. In our weekly KindLink webinar, we talked to Hannah Nokes, Chief Optimist at Magnify Impact, Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe, Senior Account Director at FischTank PR and Marketing, and Iskren Kulev, CEO of KindLink on this topic.

Here are some of the key actionable insights from the webinar:

  • Survival is not the only thing a business should focus on right now. Focus on growth as well.
  • Your CSR and social impact strategies are the embodiment of your company’s purpose and values. They are the greatest tools for engaging your customers and clients and keeping them loyal to your brand.
  • Millennials and Generation-Z are particularly interested in seeing how the companies and brands they support are investing in social impact.
  • For authentic communication, you need to know your audience and target your messaging accordingly. But have a consistent tone, no matter where and to whom you are communicating.
  • Showcase your social impact, how you are giving back to your communities.
  • To get your activity seen and heard by the media, find your story and the journalists reporting on that topic.
  • The quickest way to measure social impact is to measure what you are doing and what improvement in behaviour you are starting to see because of what you are doing. Capture stories that raw data can never depict.
  • If you are a non-profit looking to partner with companies, make sure to approach corporations that are aligned with the activities of your organisation,
  • Communicate clearly with furloughed employees about the opportunities they have to stay engaged.
  • Collaborate with local governments to increase your local social impact.
  • Involve your leadership team to achieve an effective CSR strategy.

Why should corporate social responsibility stay at the core of your corporation?

Iskren Kulev: It doesn’t cost you anything. Uniting the team around your core values doesn’t cost you anything. The core of each company’s strategy is not to only look short term, but we need to look at how we recover as fast as possible. We are not talking about what we are doing in the next months. We are talking about looking at what we are doing in the next years.

Survival is not the only thing we need to be doing, we need to have a look at how we can grow. CSR is a key part of that.

Iskren Kulev

Hannah Nokes: Your corporate social responsibility programme is your greatest tool for engaging your customers and employees. CSR is the embodiment of your company’s core values and purposes. It sends a strong signal of consistency and reliability to your employees and the market. And that is so important right now. Your employees are going to remain more loyal, your clients are going to be more loyal, your employees are going to tell others about your company, that it’s a great place to work. And that is very important as we return to hiring again and needing to build up the employee base again. Customers and employees are paying attention to what companies are doing right now. They are looking at how companies they work for or a brand they follow are embodying their values.

We know that Millennials and Generation Z are very aware of a company’s social impact. Where do they come in?

Hannah Nokes: Those generations are the majority of the workforce so it’s absolutely critical that companies pay attention to their demands. Companies that they work for or are supporting need to be seen actively trying to solve the world’s most difficult problems. One example of how companies are really engaging with customers right now is the ads that you see on TV. Most of the ads are talking about how to address the crisis right now. That sends the message that big brands understand the importance of social impact and what a big driver that is and that improves the loyalty of both clients and employees.

How do you make stakeholders aware of your CSR strategy? How do you communicate with them? How do you prioritise CSR and other things in the crisis?

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: We are trying to talk to an on-demand younger population. We need to be showing that we are staying calm especially during these big market changes. We need to maintain a sense of transparency. There are tools and strategies for that: websites, blogs, and activity spotlights.

You need to show what you are doing right now not only in terms of maintaining the business continuity but also how you are giving back to your communities.

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe

 There are a number of opportunities for how to give back to the communities that go beyond just a financial contribution. Communicate and keep a sense of calm and show that you are trying as a company to give back.

Blogs are a great way to touch base with the community. CEO newsletters are another tool, since employees and customers alike want to keep in touch with leadership. Get your executive team to spotlight your activity and how you are helping the community.

There is so much noise in this space and people are good at separating the wheat from the chaff. What are some of the key elements of an authentic message?

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: Know your audience. Who is it that you are speaking to? Are you speaking to investors, employees, or the general public? If you are speaking to employees then your messages should aim to create a social connection as well as sharing updates. For investors, you need to communicate that you are continuing business and that you have a plan. For CSR, you should communicate that you are not only thinking about yourself and that you are giving back to your community. For the public, you should also show how you are giving back to the community.

The tone is the one thing that should stay consistent. Take a personal tone, be genuine, acknowledge the situation and be real. You don’t want the message to be inconsistent, you don’t want the tone to differ from how you message on Facebook and how you message on LinkedIn. Every press release, every blog post you do, you should keep the tone consistent.

Hannah Nokes: I would point out that employees and customers value messages that are pointing back to your company’s values. Clients need to see businesses responding in a way that is making sense to who they are as a company. Now companies are concerned with crisis response, helping vulnerable communities, children, or the elderly. But it is important that we continue to build and maintain our strategic approach to our community partnerships. That should show through as consistent to who you are as a business.

When we help companies decide what kind of causes to support, we look at three big categories:

  • The company’s purpose and values. An example would be Waste Management who have a strong value of ‘people first’ so they made the decision not to lay off a single employee during the crisis.
  • Company’s ‘superpower’. What makes you different? For example, Dyson can produce ventilators because of the expertise they already have.
  • Stakeholder relationships need to strengthen through your impact work. Think about your investors, customers, local suppliers and see how you can invest in that. For example, invest in STEM programmes in local schools if you know you will need a future pipeline of software development talent. It drives value back into the company and engages the local community and future employee base.

Looking at these three things helps companies know where to invest their time and energy and reinforces a message of consistency and reliability, it tells the same story: ‘we are who we have always been’.

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: In any communication programme, you want to highlight your company’s strength. We are seeing a lot of innovation in the ways in which companies are looking introspectively at their ‘superpowers’ and finding ways to help in the crisis. Syneos Health is a biopharmaceutical solutions company and one of the big things they donated was their experts. It’s not just about drug development, for them, it’s also about volunteering the time of clinically-trained individuals who can go out and support, in this case, the UK’s calls for volunteers. You should be showcasing what you are doing and spotlighting it.

Find your unique story. What are you doing that is different? What is the story, what is it that you are specifically doing and how do you stand out? And then honing in on that story. If you have an employee that has been hit by the crisis talk to them and share their story. Understand what the media is covering. A lot of journalists are pulled out of their usual beats and while some are focusing exclusively on reporting the news, others are looking for the good in this devastating crisis. Hone in and find the right people, people who are writing about what you are doing and then target the story and your message to these people. You need to make sure you are really targeting them and that your story is addressing what the reporter is writing about.

What are the practices that are being used to track the long-term social impact in CSR?

Hannah Nokes: Measurement of the social impact of a company is a big topic. We always advocate creating clear goals for your focus areas. We help companies create a clear vision of what they want to change in the world. We make a bold impact vision and then have two or three pillars that will support this vision. You might not be able to end all hunger but you might be able to help children in the local school have a warm, healthy lunch every day. Scopes and pillars need to be realistic and I would say measure output such as the number of children served, the number of meals. Then move on to the behavioural changes that have resulted because of your actions such as how attendance has increased because of the meals. Measuring behavioural change is really tough. There are a lot of companies offering technology for that but I would say measure what you are doing and what improvement in behaviour you are starting to see because of what you are doing. Capture the stories you are seeing. The stories will capture the impact in a way that raw data never will.

How do you get the decision-makers in your company on board with your corporate social responsibility strategy?

Hannah Nokes: There are a couple of things you could do and this is really important for us. We work hard to make sure the management team sees the business value of corporate social responsibility. We start planning the CSR strategy of a company by looking at a company’s strategy for growth. We ask questions like what are some of the new opportunities you have, what new markets are you moving into, what stakeholder relationships do you need to engage. And then comparing these to the ways in which the company can have a social impact so that everything that you are doing drives back quality to the business. Social impact is the greatest tool for engaging your employees and customers. Employees and customers are your greatest asset and talking to the leadership team about CSR in this way are better than just strictly presenting it as ‘the right thing to do’.

We are going to start seeing that financial goals are not the only measure of success. The tide is shifting. The major institutional investments are moving against companies that are not working in investing in their communities.

Hannah Nokes

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: From a PR and marketing perspective, companies really focus on what their services are or what their products and that is all well and good and can get you into the media. But having the additional story helps your PR and marketing teams differentiate you from competitors. From an external standpoint, brand reputation is big and visibility too. The way you handle these can be a make-or-break and social responsibility plays into that. A lot of the charities and social causes you are working with might have a lot of ties with the media already. They are people too, and they have the causes and social interest that they stand behind as well. In the media that is big, and having a target audience helps.

It takes the commitment of leadership to set up a programme and make it be successful. You want the CEO to put together newsletters or vlogs to that are being released regularly such as once a week or once a month. You need to ensure the commitment of team members and have a strategy and a plan in place in terms of having a look at what you need for your external and internal audience.

How and why should employee engagement stay at the top of corporate social responsibility strategies?

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: Employees are the life of your company. They can make or break your company. You want to be doing all that you can to increase productivity and morale for the ‘new normal’. Spotlighting the activities of your employees is also important, it brings people together. CEO letters are a great way in which you can build trust. It’s not just ‘Now we are going forward’ but now is the moment to also build trust and transparency with leadership internally and externally. Blog. Give people a chance to engage and see what is being done. Do a social media campaign, if you are doing good work then you want people to see that, you want your name in publications. We know the names of those publications and people feel a sense of pride of being included in that. A great example is McDonald’s. They have set up a fantastic microsite dedicated to communicating positive things that are being done. There is nothing about their business there, only about good things that are being done around the world.

Hannah Nokes: Employees are your biggest brand ambassadors so sharing what you are doing is great. Two-way communication is really important. We have small group employee communications online and ask them how they are doing, what support they need, what they are doing in their community and how we, as a company, can use our ‘superpowers’ to help. Take time to find out the skills and interests and passions of your employees and these can be used now or later in future projects. You can catalogue the skills of your employees. It is also just helpful to get employees to share, it keeps everyone connected. Keep them productive and engaged around the company’s values. The company should remain the one they have always known.

What about furloughed employees? How do you keep them engaged?

Hannah Nokes: Engaging your furloughed employees to keep doing remote volunteering is a great idea. I would also say make sure to keep including them in the daily team conversations.

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: Make communication with these employees really clear so they know where they can find different opportunities. This is a small thing that makes a big difference to them. Clear communication is a simple way to show that you care and that you want to make this process as easy as possible for them.

In many countries, governments are struggling to react appropriately to the crisis. How can you ensure that you get your corporate social responsibility strategy on the political agenda too?

Hannah Nokes: The local government is a key stakeholder that you need to develop a good relationship with. Authentic CSR, authentic social impact is one of the best ways to deepen and create positive relationships with the local government. It goes hand in hand with the public affairs team. In my experience, your public affairs team loves to be armed with data about how your company is a good citizen in your local community. If you don’t have a public affairs team, lean on the media and make yourself heard. You need to make it clear that you are a good citizen in your community that you are adding to it and not taking away from it.

Katelyn Caruso-Sharpe: Go on social media and connect with your local government, as well as start working with your local government’s communications team. It can help you start a conversation with the right people. They want to spotlight what they are doing to help the community, so collaborate with them and make sure that your activity is seen and heard.

Hannah Nokes: Collaborating with the public affairs communication team of the local government is crucial. In Austin, Texas we have a group of around 80 companies and we have a public, private meeting at the mayor’s office once a month. We have a conduit between the business community and the community at large and we can communicate quickly with one another. Create something like that in your community is possible, you don’t need to be a large corporation to do this.

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This week, KindLink launched a campaign to help companies keep corporate social responsibility at the core of their business despite the challenging times they are facing.

Iskren Kulev, the CEO of KindLink, says: “The reason we chose to launch this campaign was that we wanted to raise awareness on what companies are doing with their corporate social responsibility. We recognised that in times of crisis all businesses are going back to basics. We always go back to what is important. What are the core things that make businesses tick and run? The team and clients of a company make it tick. CSR has been known to be the best way of engaging employees and bringing teams together. We wanted to remind companies, as well as employees, that corporate social responsibility is how we can stay together. There is another angle, recruitment. CSR attracts top talent and Millennials especially want to work in businesses that are socially sustainable. Sadly, many people have been made redundant but after this crisis, HR and recruitment will have to be able to show the best culture of their companies which relates a lot to their CSR strategies.”

 

Sara Klusch is a Junior Web Editor and Author at KindLink Global, covering all topics related to philanthropy.

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