Sarah Lawless, Head of North West Operations and BIG CSR champion, talks about taking CSR beyond PR.

CSR can be a powerful tool for any company. It can help to build your customer base, attract and retain talent and create an influx of positive press about your organisation.

In fact, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, companies with strong sustainability programs had: 55% better staff morale, 43% more efficient business processes and 43% stronger public image.

It is perhaps not surprising then that more and more organisations are turning to CSR to boost their business while giving something back.

However, CSR campaigns can often fall flat. A new CSR initiative can be met with an almighty groan from team members who view it as a mandate from above, another job to do, or simply a box to tick. Especially if they have not been engaged or consulted with at any point in the process.

As an agency with over 350 clients in a wide variety of sectors, we have worked with many of them to develop and implement successful CSR strategies and have learnt a fair few things along the way. Here are our top five tips to build a robust and impactful CSR campaign:

  1. Start with your team

    The most successful campaigns we have seen are built by the team, for the team. Listening carefully to your staff when building your CSR campaign will allow you to choose causes that matter to them. This way you can ensure you are planning activity that your team genuinely wants to take part in and has the capacity to deliver.

  2. Find a way to champion CSR success

    For an entirely commercially-driven organisation, this can often require redefining success altogether. To do this effectively it is crucial that the whole senior team is on board and committed to leading by example. Make sure you that you are not dictating policies but instead, sharing stories. By shining a spotlight on those people in your organisation that have made the biggest difference, you will not only provide well-deserved recognition but you might also find that others quickly follow suit.

  3. Tie everything to your mission

    There is no point choosing a cause that is entirely unrelated to your company, your product or your purpose as this can easily confuse your offering and water down your messages. The CSR campaigns we love the most tie into a company’s raison d’être. One great example of this is Leesa, the mattress company that donates one mattress to a homeless shelter for every ten mattresses sold. This drives everything it does and ties perfectly into its mission: “to end bedlessness”.

  4. Learn from others and know your market

    Make sure you do your homework. By finding out what others have done in your industry, you get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t; giving your organisation a real advantage. In 2010, Unilever researched what consumers wanted from their products and found that reducing environmental impact was high on the agenda. The company used this information to create a roadmap for accelerating growth while reducing environmental footprint. In 2016, the company’s portfolio of ‘sustainable living brands’ grew more than 50% faster than its other brands, proving that doing good, can be good for business.

  5. Be authentic

    In an increasingly transparent world of online scrutiny, there is no room for organisation’s who make false promises or do things by half. Before you roll out any CSR strategy or campaign, make sure you have the resource, the drive and the ambition to see it through and deliver something meaningful. Green-washing simply does not wash and in fact, can often do a lot more harm than good.

Here at BIG Partnership we have overhauled and relaunched our CSR strategy for 2018, empowering team members to take an extra day off every year to spend on a cause that matters to them. Built around three key pillars of people, planet and profit (or fundraising), our CSR structure empowers our people to dedicate time and resources to the issues they care about while uniting our teams, across offices to make a meaningful difference.

A strong CSR campaign can be a huge asset to any business, but which businesses do you think are doing great things in this area? And are there any recent campaigns which you think have totally missed the mark? We would love to hear your thoughts so click here to get in touch and let us know!

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