How to achieve authentic social impact and why your CSR programs need it


In today's episode, we discuss why authenticity is key for your social impact and corporate social responsibility programs. We also explore what's driving the desire for authenticity, how to get buy-in from stakeholders to implement and impact on company's legacy.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:  

Karl Yeh:                      

So, today my special guest is Kerry Lawrence.

She's a community investment consultant with Benevity and we're going to talk about authenticity and really about authenticity or looking for the need for authenticity in your social impact programs to therefore strengthen the relationship with your nonprofit partners.

So, Kerry, I guess what is driving the desire and the need for authenticity in our social impact programs?

What's driving the desire and shift towards authenticity in social impact?


Kerry Lawrence:           

My gosh Karl, I [00:01:00] love this question. I love talking about this.

We talk about this all the time. I have these conversations every day.

So, I just want to start with saying I just love the word authentic. I love it as a descriptive word and as a value. It implies being fully trustworthy and walking the talk.

I don't know how many times you just to know that we're all sick of hearing just people talking about it, you want to see them in action.

So, quite frankly, this [00:01:30] is what I'm thinking. What I think is driving this is the fact there's two reasons that I'm just going to talk about at a high level right now.

1. Oversaturation

One is that we're oversaturated. Too much of everything.

Media, social media, marketing, sales. People and companies are all desperate to stand out and make a profit and what's ironic is we know it, we love to hate it, but for most of us, it's still living a dream.

2. Climate Change

Secondly, we have this thing called climate change. It's real.

We all [00:02:00] know we will not make a change until we are feeling enough pain.

My personal opinion is we are feeling the pain of being oversaturated and the effects of climate change.

We're noticing this now and people are questioning it and they're wanting to do something about it.

We are not okay anymore with promise company values, vague missions and stock images. [00:02:30]

We want to see action, we want connection, we want to trust. I think even if you look at this within our own relationships, we're all too picky now with the relationships that we have, because we want to make sure we trust them.

So, now I think it's interesting, it feels like we've come full circle from social media isolating us to wanting more of a connection and authentic relationship.

And in my role, advising, consulting with medium to enterprise corporations on their community investment programs, this is the top of the priority list, strengthening relationships with not for profit partners and looking at what that means.

How can we be more authentic?

How can we get them to [00:03:00] trust us?

How can we help them see that we're walking the talk? And not even these nonprofits, but our communities. How do we get them to see that we are doing that?

Karl Yeh:                      

It's really interesting that you mentioned about authenticity because if you look... I'm from the marketing and communications field and if you look at how the progression has happened over the past just several years.

And look at even some of the tools that's being used, even some of the social channels, [00:03:30] people are gravitating a lot of it as gravitating to not the overly produced or overly over the top commercial or videos or whatever it is, these are the reasons why things like TikTok or reels or things like that are doing much better is because they can connect with the person.

Kerry Lawrence:            Yes.

Karl Yeh:                      

On a real level, rather than it's this company that produced this and [00:04:00] it doesn't look real because that's not what it is in real life and it was funny.

Because I was talking to my dad just this weekend and we were just watching a car commercial and you've probably seen it, I can't remember what it was, it was a GMC truck and they're driving in the desert and they're being really aggressive and it's really cool, but the thing that I was thinking about is unless you are out there, what most people would be using, this would be driving to the grocery store, [00:04:30] driving maybe to the mountains, parking and then getting out.

How much actual real life situations would you be using this said vehicle?

And I think it just boils the point you're right.

People just want to make that authentic connection because there's so many things around us that whether it's like we're just exposed to a lot especially in where we're all locked down or [00:05:00] we're getting of the lock down, we just want to relate and connect with other people.

There's a lot more technology that allows us to and it's part of that connection.

Kerry Lawrence:           

I agree and I find it stressful.

It's stressful in this world of everything people just have this impression that everything has to be perfect all the time, they are always striving for this perfection.

If you're looking at models and pictures or cars or whatever it may be, and now I think that everyone is just [00:05:30] so tired from trying to achieve this, that they're starting to kind of I just want something real, I just don't want to be striving for thatI just want to focus on more of the things that are more important right now which is this connecting face to face.

I do think that and I think with companies talking about their purpose and everything they're doing in their mission, it's amazing but now employees are saying, what are you doing about that? What are you actually doing about this?

[00:06:00] Or I see all the time companies, especially community investment programs where they've got very vague missions about what they're trying to accomplish, they'll just say, "We're just trying to create an impact."

What does that mean?

And so now when you explain it and you're very specific and then you actually do it, that is building trust, that's walking the talk.

Karl Yeh:                      

And so speaking of looking for authenticity,

How does a community investment leader get buy-in from their stakeholders to make this shift towards authenticity?


Kerry Lawrence:           

That's a big question.

And I'm going to say, and this is my thing right now is baby steps.

Getting buy-in is really hard as we all know, I bet all of us here struggle with that. I'm not going to lie, it can take years sometimes to get buy-in to do something like this.

And I have this meme and I don't know if you've seen it, this is my favorite one I've ever seen and I actually have it pinned up, but it's basically two ladders [00:07:00] that are facing the sky and they go you can't see the edge of them and there's two people, there's one person climbing one ladder and it's got these tiny little steps and he's almost or she, whatever the person is almost at the top, whereas the other ladder has very big steps and there's only four steps to get to the top and that person's still at the ground looking up at the first step.

small steps

You can't do everything in one go.

You're not going to get everyone agreeing to invest in your program and start to change your program completely in one [00:07:30] term.

If you've got a business, you're working with multiple stakeholders, all with different objectives, they again need to feel the pain to make it change and they need to see the opportunity for profit to invest in what you're doing.


Karl, this is a whole other conversation, we should talk about what profit ROI with your community investment program.

Build a relationship strategy


I have lots of feelings around that, profit is different but I think if you're going to start small with starting to build an authentic program, authentic [00:08:00] relationships, you need to build what I call a relationship strategy, a friendship strategy.

Start small with one or two not for profit partners that maybe you've been close with.

Work with them as a partner over the course of a few years.

Some of you are going to block and say what, I can't do that, we don't have approval to do multiyear funding, I know but there are ways around trying to... maybe you don't commit to multi years, but it's a relationship that you have over a couple of years [00:08:30] because I'm going to tell you, you're not going to be able to build an authentic relationship everyone listening with one transaction, with one contribution.

A relationship is for life everybody, maybe not in the business world, but it's for a long time and for you to build trust, you need to have something over the course of maybe multiple transactions if you want to use it that way.

Know what a partnership means to them.

So, with these one or two nonprofit partners, [00:09:00] find out what partnership means, find out what will really help them tackle and make a difference with a problem they're trying to solve because sometimes your money is going to be absolutely the bill and the end all in some respect, but we all know with relationships if you think about the...

What's the thing Karl where they talk about your love language.

Love language is different for everybody. Some people their love language is words of affirmation, sometimes it's presents, which is my [00:09:30] mom, my mom's obsessed with giving presents.

Everybody is different with how they show and action love and it's the same with partnerships with your nonprofits in the sense that yes, your presence of money is amazing but maybe they need volunteers, maybe they need skills, maybe they need connections with other people, maybe they need strategic advice.

There's all kinds of different things there and when you're more interested [00:10:00] in the learning about what they need and helping them as a real relationship or partner would be, that is far more authentic.

And in this case, what you're going to find is that A, you can always prove your outputs in terms of number of people from what you've been doing with them and your contributions, dollar amount contributed, value of in kind et cetera, but you will also be able to now provide an authentic story.

Stories take time, you can't create a story [00:10:30] from one transaction and so really I think if you've got that proof of over the course of time, developing this relationship, obviously giving the metrics that you need to but then the story over the course of time, that is very powerful and will help you build that case.

Karl Yeh:                      

So, what impact would this have to a company's legacy in relation to the community and I guess to its partners?

Legacy with the community and its partners


Kerry Lawrence:           

Oh my gosh, I love the word legacy. What do you want [00:11:00] your footprint to be?

How do you want people to remember you?

If we go back to the word trustworthy, think about the friends you have in your life.

What's keeping them in your life?

There's something about the word I think dependability and consistency.

No one is perfect, but there's an undercurrent of those two values within your relationship.

If you are consistent with your listening, we all know in relationships how important that is and you're listening to your community, you're listening to your partner and you're responding, [00:11:30] you will build trust, engagement and I mean real engagement.

We talk about this word and it's a buzzword I know but you will, because the more you put in the more you're going to get out and you're going to get loyalty, you will be walking the talk.

That will be the legacy that people will remember you for because none of your community, or your customers, or your clients know that you're contributing $20,000 a year to whatever cause, but they will know if they see you actually there [00:12:00] and doing things or if it the case may be whatever the charity needs, it could be that they need like I say, a better strategy or something for a future.

If you're helping them do that, this is actually proving to your community you are doing that and I think that's the legacies, they know you for doing that, they believe you are trustworthy, you are a real deal.

Karl Yeh:                      

So, Kerry do you have anything else to add in terms of I guess making your social impact programs a little bit more authentic and strengthening that relationship with your cause partners?

Kerry Lawrence:           

The most important thing to think about when you want to be more authentic is that you need to listen and you're not just going to be able to do that from sending out a survey post contribution to [00:13:00] say what happened with these funds?

Did you make the impact that you intended to make?

That is a very high level and it's great information, but if you really want to be authentic, you've got to pick up the phone.

I really do believe that you got to pick up the phone and you've got to start talking to them and listening to them and finding out because sometimes, you need to have that time and if you're listening to them and finding out truly how that made an impact or what's been going on, that will really help you skyrocket [00:13:30] your plan.


Question of the Day:

How have you made your social impact programs [00:12:30] more authentic? Or what are some of the challenges that you face?=