Mastering Social Impact and CSR Strategy Part 2: Articulate Phase

In this episode, you’ll learn the articulate or problem solving phase when building a social impact strategy. We chat with Nicole McPhail, Co-founder and Managing Partner with Darwin Pivot, and explore the steps to take so you have a clear understanding of the problems or problems your program will look to solve. And how to align that with your company’s business goals

Watch, listen to read the full series on developing a social impact and CSR strategy:

Part 1: The Research phase


Watch the episode:
Prefer to listen?

Read what we discussed:

Karl Yeh:

So my guest today is Nicole McPhail. She is the co-founder and managing partner with Darwin Pivot, and this is Part two of our series on how to build a social impact strategy. So Nicole, what's the second part of building that strategy?

The Articulate Phase

Nicole McPhail (00:42):
Okay. So once you understand the landscape, like we talked about internally and externally, and if you haven't watched the video one, please go back and check it out because it fuels where you take this next step, which is articulate.

Articulate is essentially your ability to be very concise and very clear with what it is you're solving for in the first place.

Because all too often people will come in and be like, "Yes, I want to have a CSR program or a social good program," or whatever you're calling it, "because I want to do more good in the world," and that's great, but you have to uplevel and in order to get that buy-in internally, maybe not for all companies, but for many companies.

And so in order to do that, you have to treat this like a business as if you were creating a product or a service, but your product and service is your CSR strategy, and you need to be able to rhyme off, what it is you're solving for, how it aligns to the business and how you can essentially solve for X in the business by doing whatever it is you're doing.

And the reason why I'm being vague is because depending on the type of business you have and depending on where your company is, your why might change.

It could be, we talk a lot about the need for retaining and engaging, and attracting and developing talent because that's the landscape of talent right now, a lot of turnover.

You have to treat this like a business as if you were creating a product or a service, but your product and service is your CSR strategy

Another example could be around your consumer brand, in which case that why would be around the relationship that you're building with consumers through the good work that you're doing, or it might be predominantly around sustainability, or that could fall under an environmental team or finance, and it's more around ESG compliance or regulations and things like that.

So once you get that research done, you can know what your why will be, so you can craft an overarching, what am I solving for statement that you can begin to socialize internally in a more concrete and specific way.

So once you know that, then you also need to know how are you going to measure the success of what it is that you're doing. And so I'll stop there, that's the starting point for articulate.

Karl Yeh (03:16):
So when you're looking at the problems that your organization is looking to solve, is it both from an altruistic sense, "We're looking to solve a problem affecting the world," or is it a more of a internal like, "Hey, we're looking to solve," let's say, "we want to retain our top talent, hence we need to do this."

So is there both an internal and external type of, I guess, problems that we're solving and not just from the business sense, but also from the good that you're trying to do, I guess?

What type of problems should programs be looking to solve?

Nicole McPhail (03:54):

Yeah. I like that question a lot. And I think that it depends on your company.

So there are some companies that are starting with, "We want to have a meaningful, positive or pro-social impact in the world," and you could go in with some very inspiring hypotheses that you want to solve for and how you want to do it through the company.

But I would say for the majority of people out there in companies, aspiring CSR folks, I would say that we're still at a point where you need to solve for the business first.

And once you can say, "You know what? Our talent is expecting us to be doing these things, we're not, we probably should really focus and prioritize on this."

And then once you actually get the okay to have this type of program, secure your budget, then you can get aspirational. And that's a whole different level of decision making after the fact.

So your programs and your strategies and what you're solving for from a social impact side of things, I would say is the next step once you've already secured this high level approval of the concept in theory like, "Yeah, we need this and then we give you a yes, go do it. Tell us what you want us to do from there."

Karl Yeh (05:15):
How has the impact of ESG and, or diversity, equity, inclusion, how have those two, which is really a big driving force in the social impact space, how have those two things impacted the problem solving element of building that strategy?

How was ESG and DEI impacted social impact strategy development

Nicole McPhail (05:38):
Yeah. I think it's amazing because when we think about CSR in its true form, it actually has a lot of different pillars that fall underneath it, not just transactional giving and volunteering.

So we've got the environmental part of things, DEI and B, we've got supply chain considerations, which means even around procurement and the types of suppliers that we use. They've got the talent, so how you are hiring and engaging your people around this.


And then there's the philanthropic side of things, which is more around bigger and larger strategic partnerships and sustained relationships, and how you are elevating your brand that way. So to your point, I think in the past we were operating in more of a siloed and insular way underneath all of these, and some companies had one or two pillars. Some companies, not all of them, but they weren't working together cohesively.

And I think now that ESG has really come into the mix when stakeholders and companies are looking at how organizations are investing or companies are investing back in a more holistic way, this means that the CSR teams that are actually supporting these initiatives have to be more holistic and integrated as well.

It also means that skills need to be upleveled. So historically it could be a program manager running, giving a volunteering program, but now we're talking about data analysts and we're talking about experts that understand DEIB concerns and things like that, which need to be not only embedded in every aspect of CSR and pretty much everything a company does, but you need to have that specific skillset to know how to do it.

Karl Yeh (07:29):
Let's give our audience a first couple of steps on how to articulate or understand, or write down those problems that this social impact strategy is going to be looking to solve.

First steps when in the Articulate Phase

Nicole McPhail (07:59):
Sure. So again, make sure you have done your research because that will filter some of your thinking around this step that we're going to talk about.

So what I would say is get a team of people together that aren't just within your domain.

I think a challenge network is really important to diversify your thinking in general. And I would say write on a whiteboard, "What are we solving for?"

And then when you get to an answer, then ask yourself why. And then when you write that down, ask yourself why again.

And when you get back to the point where you can't pull any more layers back to that root cause of what it is that you're solving for, then I think you're probably in a good spot. So then once you have your why, then step back, and from your research, think about, "Okay, who is our biggest stakeholder for this decision to be made and what do they care about most?"

And if your priority, your why is not directly aligned to that stakeholder's why, that's a problem, and you need to go back to the drawing board and rethink it again.

And so once you finally get there, then you can articulate it in a sense of, "This is what we're solving for. We are looking to attract and retain the world's best talent.

Our program is going to support this by X and X."

And then you have something to talk about when you run into, say, one of your decision makers at a social, or you're connecting with someone on Slack or something, you can say, "This is what we're doing.

This is what we want to do," and you can talk about it more concretely and in a more sophisticated way rather than something that's like, "This is kind of this idea we have." I found that that intentionality can really help take you from an idea to something that's easier to put into action.

So Nicole, if any one of our audience wants to connect with you, what's the best place to reach you?

Nicole McPhail (10:02):
You can find me at, and you can email me at, or find me on LinkedIn.