Corporate Social Responsibility Report: How COVID - 19 and Racial Justice Movement impact CSR 

In today's episode we discuss the latest Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Report by the ACCP (Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals) and Rocket Social Impact on the Impact of Covid 19 and Racial Justice Movement on CSR.

We dive into the report's key finding and insights including the impacts of the triple crisis on the Corporate Social Responsibility Industry, how racial justice and DE&I are driving the most change and what are the business ramifications. We also explore if social impact programs should be integrated in a company and how CSR professionals can leverage the insights of the report in their programs.

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What we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So, today I've got two special guests. My first guest, he's a guest cohost, is Ryan Adams with Benevity and our special guest is Carolyn Berkowitz, who is the president and CEO of the Association Of Corporate Citizenship Professionals [00:01:00]. Thank you both for joining us today.

Carolyn Berkowitz:  Thank you, Karl. And hi, Ryan.

Ryan Adams:

Good to see everyone and Karl, thanks for that.

Let's let's jump right into this thing.

So Carolyn, as the leader of this fantastic organization, I thought it'd be a good place to start to just ask her a little bit of background for our viewers. What is the ACCP? What do you do? It's such a big organization. I thought it'd be a good place to start.

What is the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP)?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

Great. ACCP is a membership organization [00:01:30] for purpose-driven companies and for the professionals that are out there creating social impact inside those companies.

We are a career long resource that provides trends and tools and helps these practitioners think about strategies.

And one of the things that we do is research on behalf of our members and of the whole field.

And so, I'm excited to share the research about this and if you go to our site, [00:02:00] you'll see research on all kinds of other things as well, but all things that help social impact professionals drive change.

Ryan Adams:

Perfect. Thanks so much, Carolyn.

So, I think that research is the perfect spot for us to go next. I had a chance to read your new report, really compelling read, congratulations.

And a lot of common trends that we're seeing at Benevity as well with our clients. So, we'd love to dive into that and learn more.

Can you share with us some of those key [00:02:30] headlines? Those big stats that are coming out of this that really resonate with you?

Key findings and insights of the report


Carolyn Berkowitz:

So, we were really proud to partner with Rocket Social Impact on this research and Rich Mayori 00:02:42] and together we surveyed a hundred corporations and asked them what has happened inside your company and how have your strategies been impacted as a result of what we call the crisis [00:03:00] of 2020?

Triple Crisis of 2020


So, the pandemic, the resulting economic downturn, and of course the reckoning that we all have been doing with racial justice coming out of the murder of George Floyd.

And so, together, we surveyed our members and others and we learned some really fascinating things.

And I'll say just the top three that I think are most important.

So, the first is [00:03:30] never before have we seen the kind of change that we are seeing right now in the field.

It is a faster and more pervasive change and impact than we've ever seen at any time in history in this somewhat young profession and nascent field.

The second is that racial justice and diversity equity inclusion and how they intersect with each other is absolutely driving the most significant changes in expectations of society of corporations and in corporate strategies that respond to that [00:04:00].

Racial Justice and DE&I driving the most change


So, 87% of those that were surveyed said that they are changing their strategies as corporations in the community as a result of the response to racial justice and that demand.

And I think the third [00:04:30] is that there is this great integration among previously siloed groups and divisions inside of companies that is an imperative now.

So, the social impact organizations or the CSR departments are being asked to integrate with their peers and partners in DEI, in HR, in ESG, in all of the staff groups.

And while that may seem like a given and like it just makes sense.

We all know how [00:05:00] hard it is really to integrate inside of a company when it comes to sharing resources, making the time for having strategies that connect and align, et cetera.

So, I think while it is something that we have pushed for over time, what's gone on in the last year has really driven those changes.

So, I would say overall, the big story is that companies are now as part of their social [00:05:30] impact work in the racial justice, racial equity, and DEI business in a big way more quickly than ever before.

Karl Yeh:

So, Carolyn, just to expand on that, in some of our previous episodes, we were talking about the opportunity, like maybe not the opportunity, but the change in the corporate social responsibility space.

Do you foresee that change being permanent? Especially based on your study. Do you see all those changes [00:06:00] being permanent?

Or maybe is there going to be kind of a backtrack once the population or society is it's attached on something different?

Will these changes remain or will there be some backtracking?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

I don't think this is going to go away.

I certainly hope it's not going to go away.

And I think the primary reason is because the success of the business is driven by its stakeholders and the stakeholder demand for real-world change is not lessening.

And so, while I think the [00:06:30] previously biggest change was this shift from shareholder to stakeholder.

And so, we've seen that it is no longer just about the bottom line with investors and customers, but there really are stakeholders that impact the success of a business, the employees, the communities that they do business with the customers, the general public regulators, all of those forces now have a different kind of impact [00:07:00] on the business and things as base as the value of the stock.

No longer can you be the blue chip company without really attending to all of the stakeholders.

So, what this change did was it really accelerated that adoption of the stakeholder movement and it really directed it towards what I think of the root issues, root causes [00:07:30] of some of the country and the world's greatest crises.

And I think that until companies have a real hand in how these things are solved, their employee base will dwindle or the talent within them will not be as strong as if it were really diverse and really prepared as a workforce. [00:08:00] I think stakeholders like customers and potential customers and communities will start speaking out as they already are, voting with their wallets.

And so, the reason why I think that these things are here to stay is because of the pace of acceleration of getting to the root issue, which is the racial disparities that exist in every one of our systems.

Karl Yeh: And the results in the data [00:08:30] from the report really tells a really rich story related to that.

In particular, there's a lot of that fluidity in the past 18 months. Is that something that you saw as an outcome?

Has there been this much change in the CSR industry before?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

Yeah, so 64% of companies have incorporated racial justice as a new priority. 64% of companies have ever aligned around an impact priority.

And [00:09:00] 70% of companies have actually changed their strategies this year. So, strategies go through a three to five year cycle.

For 70% of companies to do this all at once means that there is something really important happening here.

And so, I think that there's [00:09:30] a couple of ways that this has happened and a couple of sort of things that we want to take away from it.

So, it happens through some companies supporting the racial justice movement itself. Some companies not necessarily shifting the organizations or their focus areas, but really taking a look at the way they do their business to be sure that they are incorporating a racial equity lens.

64% of companies have incorporated racial justice as a new priority. 64% of companies have ever aligned around an impact priority.

[00:10:00] And I think one of the reasons why it is so important and why it remains lasting and why it remains fluid is because CSR or corporate social responsibility is a really valuable tool in a company's toolbox to do any number of things.

Whether it is to engage employees differently or whether it is to recruit diverse talent [00:10:30] or grow diverse talent so that they are prepared for the workforce or whether it is to improve the reputation of the company or to change the context inside a community for doing business.

When a community is stronger, the likelihood of them producing a set of customers and employees, et cetera, is stronger.

So, all of these things are impacted with this one tool of CSR. And that's why I think the fluidity [00:11:00] will continue and the adaptation and adoption will continue.

Ryan Adams: That's fantastic. There's so much to unpack with that. I have a million questions.

But I just love that direction around the value that CSR has as a tool and your emphasis on those root causes and stakeholder mentality and that democratization of social impact, really.

And hearing that 70% [00:11:30] number, right?

So, 70% of companies over the last year changing or re-evaluating their strategic focus.

It does beg the question to me though about not only the drive to reevaluate, but have organizations can focusing on the wrong causes in the past?

I know nothing's as simple as right or wrong, but that re-evaluation, does it spark a bigger conversation about what social issues have been focused [00:12:00] on previously?

What has driven the change in corporate strategies? Have we not been focusing on the right social issues?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

I actually really believe that it has not been necessarily focusing on the wrong issues.

All of the issues that we see are important.

I think what we have all learned is that a root cause of all of these issues is the great racial disparities.

And so, I think how [00:12:30] companies do their business and focus in the areas that are most impactful to their business is what's most important.

So, I think, for example, one can take a look at hunger or healthcare that aligns with very particular industries.

And one can continue with either the same set of partners or with new partners in that issue, but do different things, [00:13:00] listen differently to the community, which is a best practice around funding with a racial equity lens or dis-aggregating data by race so that we really understand where the gaps are and not just lifting all boats or looking at poverty as a whole, for example.

A root cause of all of these issues is the great racial disparities

So, I think, yes, we have been a bit naive and it has taken a long time to get to this place [00:13:30] of so many of us understanding that the systemic and long-term nature of this in ways that we can address, but I think more importantly, companies now are really assessing and doing the work differently.

And I think we have to do the work differently if we want a different outcome.

The only way we're going to address gaps is gaps in education, gaps in you name the social [00:14:00] issue. We still want to focus on education, and that makes a lot of good sense for a lot of companies.

And yeah, it doesn't help to focus evenly across the board on education because the gaps will persist or potentially get worse.

So, I don't think we've focused on the wrong thing.

I think we have a tall order in front of us to begin to learn how to focus on the thing that you're focused on [00:14:30] with a real desire to make a change in systemic equity.

Karl Yeh:

So Carolyn, I want to go back to what you're talking about in terms of racial justice and there's been a lot of emphasis on an ESG, so environmental social governance, and do you think that there's going to be an integration of diversity, equity, inclusion, and corporate social responsibility in companies to let's say one group, [00:15:00] one team, one department?

And is that something that we are really thinking about when we think about corporate purpose?

Will DE&I and CSR become fully integrated as one team/group/department?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

I think there is increased integration.

I think it is important to understand the different structures will work for different companies.

And I don't think that we want to force any one structure on all companies.

What really does matter to me are sort of two things.

One are there [00:15:30] experts in the particular disciplines being brought to the table?

So, are they're experts on engagement, recruiting, belonging, diversity, talent building. Are there those kinds of experts at the table inside the company?

And are there experts in external social change?

So those social engineers that are generally the CSR department. So whether or not they sit [00:16:00] together or not, all of those experts need to be at the table and one does not do the other one's job.

The other piece, I think that's really important is are those two strategies, the internal people strategies and the external community strategies aligned?

And if so, then it doesn't matter whether they are structured one way or another way.

So, when [00:16:30] I think about that, it's really the power of it is in the interdependence between those two functions.

So, when a company has a diverse, engaged, well-trained group of employees who feel a real sense of belonging and purpose, then they are going to help make all of the external outcomes better. [00:17:00]

Alternatively, when external community partnerships are done well, and when equitable social change is taking root in community, then the employees in the company and the diversity and the engagement and the belonging and the appetite for innovation will increase.

So, it is the magic is the mutuality, not the structure.

Ryan Adams:

That's awesome. I love that, the mutuality is magic.

So, as a former CSR [00:17:30] professional, as someone who's led programs at a company, on behalf of my peers, I would be remiss if I didn't ask the question that probably everyone is thinking as they went through the report, as they're listening right now around resourcing and capacity.

So, the demand, as you mentioned for the work that we're doing as corporate citizenship professionals is at an all-time high and that to your point, that need for expertise, really.

But as a result of [00:18:00] your report is that 77% of team sizes stayed the same.

So, what's your taking upon that from a sustainability perspective, but also budgeting, head count, those cross department collaborations that you just spoke of?

What's your take?

Where does resourcing and capacity fit?

Carolyn Berkowitz:

My take is that it is not sustainable.

It is an exhausting profession right now.

It is so critical and all eyes are on this social impact work.

Not that it [00:18:30] is the only work that a company does, but it is the most visible work that accompany does.

And so, while a company is working on all of those other strategies that take a long time, the public and stakeholders are looking at this chunk that is the community.

So, everybody's looking at that.

Budgets have increased or at least half of all organizations have increased their giving budget, but like any portfolio, more budget means [00:19:00] more work.

So, that is difficult about it.

The other piece is that the work to be equitable, we just talked about how it needs to be done differently.

The data needs to be dis-aggregated.

We need to engage with community differently.

We need to involve more employee voices.

So, the work is more challenging and slower and it takes more expertise.

[00:19:30] So, all of this is to say that the demand has increased by 80%, which is a big one, 85% of teams are not growing.

So, as you said, 77% are staying the same and another 8% are getting smaller. 41% have increased their budget and there aren't the bodies to do it and do it really well. [00:20:00]

And so, the work will suffer.

The work will suffer and people will burn out when this happens. And I think that the way to influence is data and education.

These are always the greatest tools for influence.

And so my admonition to those of us who are in this social impact practice is to advocate for that in the same kind of [00:20:30] terms that you advocate for any kind of budget.

This is the percentage of people that are looking at it.

This is the percentage of additional work that is increased as a result of this.

This is how long it takes.

One thing that I always found really helpful is to find my senior champions who get it and arm them with data, educate them, and let them go upstairs [00:21:00] and bring it home for you.

But I think all of those things mean that if we don't want to have a revolving door and we don't want to burn people out and we want the work to be authentic, then we have to resource it and not just resource what goes outside.

The days of thinking that overhead should be low are just gone.

They're gone, you've got to invest in your people.

It's one of the reasons why I'm the most [00:21:30] proud to lead ACCP because it's a small investment for a company to make for its people to be educated and to have the kind of data that they need and to learn the trends.

But if companies aren't making those investments in their employees that are doing this work, they're not going to get what they what they really need to get.

Karl Yeh:

So, [00:22:00] Carolyn, just to follow that up, because I'm pretty new to the CSR space, I've always heard about tying the practice or the programs to the business.

So, how would companies be able to do some of that where like it isn't just its own silo where the CSR programs and social impact programs are actually impacting the bottom line.

How can companies ensure their social impact programs affect the company's business goals?


Carolyn Berkowitz: [00:22:30]

Absolutely. And that's why so much of this data is really so important.

So, there are a variety of places where that impact is proven, but one way is in recruiting and an engaging employees and with the war for talent and the need to demonstrate embracing inclusion and equity in hiring [00:23:00] and in engaging and in designing products.

The CSR strategy can directly tie to that. It can tie to that by keeping employees, having them feel the sense of purpose by volunteering, by knowing that their company is involved in causes that it cares about. It can also help recruit or train so that companies actually get the talent and keep the talent [00:23:30] that they are looking for.

When people, when consumers and others believe that a company is inherently focusing on issues that it cares about, they are far more likely to spend with those organizations, especially when we come to the newer generation.

So, Gen Z it matters even more to them than it [00:24:00] did to millennials.

And it mattered more to millennials than it did to Gen X.

So, I think that there are real, tangible business results.

I think the other piece of it is when you think about artificial intelligence and developing products that are socially responsible and you can look at that in any industry.

Without sort of that connection to the larger cause and without [00:24:30] the connection to the statistics and resources and acknowledgement of what is actually happening out in community that the CSR team brings to the table, the AI people or the tech people just are not prepared necessarily to do the kind of work and to think about the kind of innovation that they need.

So, there's all kinds of ways that it improves the bottom line. [00:25:00] And I think that has been a really exciting change over time. And it's continuing.

Karl Yeh:

So Carolyn, I guess one final question and it's more of like parting insights for our audience. [00:25:30] What can they expect in terms of like...

How can they use the insights, the data, and the results from this report into their day-to-day activities?

How can CSR professionals leverage the insights of this report in their day-to-day activities?


Carolyn Berkowitz:

So, I think in a few different ways.

I think that this data is great data to share with others in the company about the importance of resourcing about the changes.

I think employees are really an important stakeholder voice.

And I think that [00:26:00] companies are listening to their employees more and more and more.

And so, arming employees with data about all the different ways that companies are incorporating DEI and social justice into their external strategies is really important.

They will use that voice when they are influencing their bosses, the people that report to them.

I think that when we talk about the flux in the world, [00:26:30] for people inside the company to understand how much change is going on in the social impact space and that their company is actually at the forefront of doing this, I think is really an important thing for them to share.

And for CSR folks, I think you will undoubtedly feel ill prepared on any given day to handle what is in front of you.

And I think [00:27:00] this study will help you just open your eyes to other strategies or other ways to think, will open your eyes to the fact that everybody is struggling with it, and will begin to lay some of the groundwork for the kinds of things that you can research on your own or learn more about or study more about as you think about and connect with others doing this work

Karl Yeh: Well, thank you very much for joining us and yeah, we'd definitely [00:27:30] love to have you back on the show and discuss more about building other social impact programs.

Carolyn Berkowitz: Would love to do that.

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