How to Develop a Corporate Social Responsibility Program — Part 1: Research

In this episode, we discuss the first part of developing a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy, conducting research in your business. We explore assessing current CSR activities, how to building internal relationships and researching what employees care about. We also go over what to research when showing how CSR positively impacts business goals and/or the bottom line. 

Watch and Read Part 2: Articulate

Watch and Read Part 3: Back It Up

Watch and Read Part 4: Advocacy

Watch and Read Part 5: The Pitch

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Today I'm joined by Nicole Campbell, CSR expert, and we're going to talk about part one of our five-part series on how to develop a corporate social responsibility program, and we're going to start with the research.

Nicole, how does this work? When you're researching to start a CSR program, let's say from scratch, in a company that maybe doesn't know anything about CSR [00:01:00] or maybe has bits and pieces, where do you begin?

Research current CSR activities

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, so I think the first thing that you need to do is understand what sort of ad hoc, even small bits and pieces of CSR that are currently happening within your company.

Often, it really is a case where you'll have business units that are going out and volunteering.

It's basically like doing a bit of an audit on the existing state of any [00:01:30] sort of CSR actions that are currently existing.

And then in addition to that, you need to know your stuff, so do some research on what's happening in the CSR landscape.

You can look at benchmarking reports like CECP Giving in Numbers just to see what other companies of similar size are doing to yours, how much they're spending, what their programs look like.

And then also at Benevity, we have a wealth of information on exactly that.

So you can definitely reach out to us too if you're curious, [00:02:00] not just what other companies are doing, but what the best practices are.

You need to equip yourself with this foundational knowledge first.

Building internal relationships

Then what you need to do when you're trying to actually build this is start to make relationships internally and understand what your existing leaders actually care about when it relates to this work.

When I say do your research, I mean set up some interviews with HR business partners to ask them questions like,

"Do you know [00:02:30] of any executives that really care about social impact or giving back?"

Or maybe they're doing it in their personal lives, you might be able to reach out to them and get their support and advocacy from the very beginning.

Understand business priorities and how CSR solves business problems

What else you need to know is understand what your business priorities are more broadly.

For instance,

If you want to bring in a CSR program, you’re going to be needing to solve for the business in a meaningful way

And if you haven't already checked our video on the benefits [00:03:00] of CSR, check that out, because it'll give you a bunch of stats to support these conversations:


So know:

  • Are you trying to attract and retain talent right now?
  • Are you struggling from a marketing perspective around a brand element of your business?

These are the types of things that CSR can actually solve for, and you need to figure out exactly how you're going to align your work and your pitch to that.

How does company support of CSR impact initial research?

Karl Yeh:

I know we're going to touch on budget a little bit later in another video, but [00:03:30] does the amount of budget that you potentially have impact the type of research that you do?

And maybe the budget question is better served, not so much budget but more support.

So let's say your organization has more support of developing a CSR program than another organization that has minimal support, do you do things a little different when you first start?

Nicole Campbell:

Yeah, so that will come [00:04:00] later in the process because you're going to need to figure out where you best fit in the organization based on what those benefits are.

So say the biggest priority in the business is around attracting/retaining talent, employee engagement, you should try and find yourself a role, that support within that organization. 

And then the money follows from there. I think typically when you're trying to pitch a new [00:04:30] program, what you'll be doing is benchmarking, that's part of the research, to be able to present that to your leaders and say, "This is the money, this is how much we should be investing.

This is what we want to do to put our best foot forward." So it's more so working from that lens versus just trying to throw yourself in an organization that has more money.

It needs to be the right fit, and then you can ask for the money that you need. It might not always work right from the beginning, but that's part of the whole advocacy [00:05:00] phase that we'll talk about a little bit later.

Karl Yeh:

You mentioned auditing, benchmarking, building those relationships, setting up those interviews, and then tying it back to the business, which is, I guess, the most important thing too.

Because like we talked about in the benefits, yes, people want to know the brands and what they want to accomplish... I mean not accomplish but what [00:05:30] causes they're supporting and if they're living up to the missions and the values.

How to show CSR positively contributed to a businesses goals and bottom line

But at the end of the day I'm sure the question always comes back, how does this program have positive benefits to the business not necessarily just from a goodness perspective, but also a bottom line perspective too, right?

Nicole Campbell:

We have a saying at Benevity which is, "Doing well by doing good."

So you want to be doing it for the right reasons. [00:06:00]

You need to have that buy-in from leaders, that authenticity aspect of it. But in order to get to that point, sometimes you need to demonstrate that very clear line to the business, how you're solving for the business.

And that's all part of the research and understanding where you should be drawing that line to.

Unless you know that and you can clearly articulate what that is, you're going to be challenged.

Research what employees care about

The other thing in terms of research, as you know, there's a whole bunch of different pillars under [00:06:30] the CSR umbrella.

And so you've got sustainability and supply chain and diversity/inclusion, all of those.

But when you're looking at the employee engagement pillar, which is very important to your overall CSR strategy, you need to be researching with your employees too and understand what they care about.

You can do this through conducting surveys in addition to focus groups and one-on-one interviews with a cross section of employees across the organization to understand [00:07:00] what do they care about, what do they expect you as an intermediary to be doing, how do they want to be incentivized or encouraged to get involved.

This is really important data when you're doing your research, because you'll be using that at a later date to pitch the why.

If your people, a huge stakeholder of your organization care about this, you should be listening to them if you're trying to support some of these engagement efforts that you may be prioritizing as a business.

Additional Research Tips

Karl Yeh:

So Nicole, in terms of research, do you have anything else to add?

Nicole Campbell:

No. I think summarizing, get a sense of the CSR landscape, if you don't have it, through various reports, [00:08:00] joining even LinkedIn networks, there's a CSR LinkedIn network, just to have a pulse on what's happening.

Do an internal audit of what's happening in your organization. It really is important to understand what's happening so you don't step on toes when you come in and start to pitch something new.

Doing research internally in terms of stakeholders that might already have interest in this type of work, so you can reach out to them along the way and gain their support.

And then [00:08:30] really ensuring that you reach out to your employees to hear what they're saying, because you'll be using that at a later date. We'll talk about benchmarking and how you're going to actually present that piece in a different video.

But that I would say summarizes what you need to be doing from a research perspective.

Karl Yeh:

So stay tuned for part two of how to develop a CSR program by watching this playlist here.

We'll see you in our next episode.

Question for you

What other research techniques or elements have you done when you've started your CSR program?

The Social Impact Show publishes new content weekly so check back regularly for the latest information, strategies and tips from CSR experts. 

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.