How do you start a career in corporate social responsibility? 

In this episode we discuss the tremendous career opportunities in corporate social responsibility (CSR). We explore the education and skills required to work CSR as well as how to actually get a job in the industry. 

Watch the episode:


Prefer to listen:

Read what we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So, Nicole, before we get into the opportunities and career growth and all that in CSR, what kind of job is corporate social responsibility?

Most people don't really think of that when they either go to school, and what does that actually entail?

What type of job is corporate social responsibility?

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah. So [00:01:00] corporate responsibility roles, there's a couple of different kinds within companies, but

if you’re doing traditional CSR, you’re basically coming into an organization to help them do well by doing good.

So donating money, getting their people and their consumers involved in giving back and supporting causes that the company cares about as well as them personally.

You would be potentially helping with [00:01:30] diversity, equity and inclusion.

You might even be working on environmental aspects, so how they can reduce their carbon footprint as well as thinking about how you can get more strategic grants back into the community.

So you could program manager running an aspect of any one of these pieces of CSR, or if you work really hard and gain some experience, you might be the person defining the vision [00:02:00] and the strategy of what it is you're trying to do with this broader corporate social responsibility strategy.

Karl Yeh:

I guess this is a pretty loaded question. Is it a good career opportunity? Is it a good career? Is it a good career opportunity?

Is CSR a good career opportunity?

Nicole Campbell:

I would argue it's the best career.

You get to do well by doing good.

You're working with typically people who are really passionate about doing good too. So, [00:02:30] that's one really exciting piece.

And the other thing that is really cool about these roles is that it's a non-competitive industry, meaning you could work for one huge company, and partner and share ideas with a similar person in an actual competition company, because you're still trying to do good together.

And that's very cool, so CSR practitioners have a really nice community of peers and colleagues that support each other and try and move this space forward.

[00:03:00] It's also a really exciting spot to be because, unlike 20 years ago, it's supported by the top.

People are more willing to invest in this type of work, so you have more money to work with, you have more resources, you can do more.

It's a great spot to be. And it's hard to get these roles, they're coveted, but it's definitely worth striving for

Karl Yeh:

Actually, that leads into my next question. How do you actually go about and get one of these CSR roles?

I don't [00:03:30] think this is something that you would just normally go into LinkedIn, put it in the job search, and then a whole bunch of them come out.

I would imagine there's a lot more effort in trying to find these roles.



How do I get a job in CSR?

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah. So the first thing is you need to have some experience doing it, and you can get this in a couple of ways.

There are now online courses that you can take through Boston College and various other organizations.

I think Stanford has one, and I think sustainability is more prevalent [00:04:00] in universities.

So you can take those types of roles to get the educational background, but that's not everything.

Sometimes it's just a matter of if you work for a company and you have aspects of a CSR program already happening, volunteer, get involved, get exposure, and be seen as this person who loves driving this change.

And then you could start to either develop a role for yourself or apply to one that might pop up. So staying close to those practitioners.

And then trying to join any sort of networks [00:04:30] that exist.

There's a CSR network on LinkedIn that you can follow and join just to stay on top of what's happening, who's hiring, and to build relationships.

A lot of it has to do with who you know, so get in there early.

Karl Yeh:

How about formal education?

Is this something that ... I think you mentioned you could take some courses on it, but can you actually, is there any schools that are offering degrees or certificates [00:05:00] or how does that work?

What are some educational and qualifications I need for a job in CSR?

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, there are. There are schools that offer it.

Definitely for environmental and sustainability degrees.

CSR is not as quite as common, but there are add-ons to degrees that you can get in some universities.

And then, like I said, if say you're doing an undergrad in a field that's relevant, maybe psychology or [00:05:30] economics or something like that, you could always get an add-on master's or certificate in CSR. There's certainly those exist.

Karl Yeh:

I think the big thing that I actually want to see is, what are some of the major challenges you see either ahead or currently as a CSR professional?

Challenges as a CSR professional

Nicole Campbell:

This is the first time in my entire life doing CSR that I actually think the challenges that we once historically faced are being removed.

So this [00:06:00] is the first time I don't think that there's the challenges that we used to have.

Finally, because of the Larry Finks of the world getting CEOs and other executives on board, our path is opening to be able to do more of this work, get more money to do it and more people to help us do it.

So I don't even think that there is a challenge.

I think it's we should celebrate where we're going now.

Karl Yeh:

But do you see things in the future where maybe the challenges in the past are [00:06:30] kind of, I guess, maybe going away, but that has to lead to other things that ... Is it about competing for budget just like any other department in an organization?

Competing for budget.

Reporting how your program is doing, or just trying to grow that program, maybe hive it off into a completely separate department, not under whether it's in HR or [00:07:00] another function.

Do you see anything like that in the future?

Nicole Campbell:

That's what we were dealing with in the past.

The only thing that I can see in the future is increased expectations of consumers and people for us to be investing in more and not knowing how to fulfill that need, I guess.

So in that sense, maybe it's getting more budget, but as we're seeing the shift in what's happening in the world with this erosion of trust [00:07:30] and a lot of mass movements and things like that going on, businesses are expected to be out there leading that charge.

And if people aren't willing to put their money where their mouth is, I think that's going to be a challenge going forward.

But no, I don't think ... I think we've finally overcome some of the big ones. We're going into a good place now.

Career path and CSR management

Karl Yeh: 

So one last question for you, Nicole, is what does ... There's the CSR professional, but then I also start seeing CSR managers.

So maybe could you explain that more.

Is it the traditional CSR manager who manages the team, or because of how this industry is going, does that person do something a little bit different?

Nicole Campbell:

Typically it's either a [00:08:30] head of a foundation, depending on your company, or you'll have a director, vice president of something like corporate affairs or citizenship.

And then under that, you might have a director of corporate citizens, corporate responsibility.

Again, all of these names are varied between companies.

Underneath of the corporate responsibility director, then you'll have managers. Program managers that are, say, administrating these programs within the company.

So maybe they're [00:09:00] running the affinity networks or another one is running the giving volunteering program. So they're domain-specific under CSR.

So you have your overall strategist, and then you have your program managers executing out on some of the various programs.

And you've got to be great at timelines.

You have to be great at developing cross-functional relationships, because you're working with so many different business units and locations, and a really strong communicator to have [00:09:30] a role like that.

Karl Yeh:

Do you find that a lot of people have dual roles?

So, you are the HR, let's say, director, and corporate social responsibility coordinator, or are you starting to find these roles are now specialized specifically for corporate social responsibility?

CSR role specialization

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, typically it depends on the size of the company.

You wouldn't see an HR director executing out.

They'd be more on a strategic level, but they might [00:10:00] have a program manager within HR that's also supporting these things.

So I'd say that larger companies, you're going to have carved-out roles.

The team size varies.

Typically you'll see maybe in a tech company, a smaller team of three people executing out on this, but then you have companies that have 20 people that are working towards all of the different areas of CSR, combined between foundation staff and then business [00:10:30] staff within HR as an example.

The smaller companies, say you're a mid-sized market company.

Yeah, you see often communications people, managers, running these employee engagement type programs at the side of their desk, just because the company needs they know it, but they can't afford to hire a person.

And now that we have automation and things like that, those people can actually get away with doing that, especially if it's a smaller company.

Karl Yeh:

Do you have anything else to add in terms of [00:11:00] career growth or career pathing, or even some advice for any future CSR professionals?

Nicole Campbell:

I think if you're getting into it, having empathy as well for the not-for-profit sector.

So hopefully you're a volunteer or have relationships with not-for-profits to understand their needs.

Because when you move into one of these corporate responsibility positions, that empathy is going to be really important, so you aren't making life worse for these not-for-profits, and that's ultimately damaging your company's brand.

[00:11:30] As a quick example, some big companies will call up a small not-for-profit who can barely manage their day-to-day because they're under-resourced and say, "Hey, we want to have a volunteer day with 50 people in one day," and the not-for-profit's going, "Oh, my gosh, we really want your help, but we can't coordinate this. This is actually making our lives harder and not helping us." So it's really that empathy for the other partners involved too.

Karl Yeh:

So if you are a CSR professional and you want to further grow [00:12:00] and develop your career, then you've got to check out our playlist here on developing a corporate social responsibility from scratch, as well as other CSR videos where we go over other tactics and tips. Thanks for watching, and we'll see you in our next episode.



Question for you

The question I have for you is, how did you become a CSR professional and what were your challenges? 

About Nicole Campbell:

Nicole’s passion for behavioral science plays a key role in her ability to help organizations manage and adapt to change. 

Nicole has worked with companies of all sizes, industries, program varieties, and varying levels of executive support — and has had a hand in designing or growing Social Impact programs for some of the biggest brands out there. Her role, working with so many different companies, has provided her with a wealth of experience, data and anecdotes that have shaped a strong understanding of what works, what doesn’t and what’s next.