We’ve seen a profound shift in what consumers expect of the companies they use in recent years, with lower environmental impact, ethical behaviour and data security moving rapidly up the agenda.
The upshot: if companies don’t stack up under the increased scrutiny they face, customers will walk away.
All too often leaders equate sustainability with a hit to the bottom line. But research from Accenture has shown a positive correlation between businesses that put social impact at their heart, and profitability.
Staff too want to feel like their work has meaning.
According to a Deloitte survey, 49% of Gen Z factor their personal values into the work they chose. This plays into recruiting the best talent.
The terminology has shifted, from CSR to ESG and a million other labels in between – (‘shared value’, or ‘cause marketing’ anyone?).
But in essence we’re talking about the same thing: objectives for a company that look beyond shareholder profit, to customers, communities and the world at large.
If you’ve been tasked with setting up or managing a social impact programme for your company, it can be an exciting but daunting prospect. Like any sector, the world of charity is complex and takes some navigating.
We hope that some of the ideas and best practice outlined below should stand you in good stead.
Many companies launch social impact programmes with the best intentions but the end result falls a little flat.
Social impact can sit in a silo with staff having to make a business case for budget. Without proper buy-in internally, the project is seen as a distraction from real work and ultimately loses momentum.
So how best to avoid these pitfalls?
How do you set up a programme that gets staff at all levels fired up, that is well communicated to key stakeholders and that ultimately, has real-world impact?
Let’s start with the gold standard.
Bottom-line: the closer you can intertwine your social impact goals with your commercial objectives, the more successful you will be.
Patagonia is a company that has integrated its sustainability mission fully into its products and offerings, which in turn has only positively impacted its bottom line.
On a practical level, this might mean that instead of sitting in a silo, your social impact lead reports to your profit making arm – either CEO or sales/product. They work together to develop products that benefit both.
For many companies, this level of alignment might not be realistic.
But what about designing a social impact initiative that uses your existing products and services for positive change, like CISCO? Stakeholders see a clear link with the project, your services and the brand, which reinforces positive perceptions.
Too often social impact is farmed out to a committee of willing volunteers as an afterthought.
Be as meticulous in your planning as with any other part of your business, including your commercial strategy:
What is intended as a push to get customers on board, can end up backfiring with reputational and even legal consequences.
It’s worth spending the time reviewing things like supply chains, pushing for more transparency.
Most of all, be honest about your efforts. If there are things you’re still ironing out, say so. Customers will appreciate your honesty.
Early in the process, have an open and frank discussion about what you as an organisation, and what senior management, want from any social impact programme.
As well as impact, how important are other factors like employee engagement or PR?
It’s not cynical to look at the benefits a community partnership might bring; in terms of business leads for example. Again, the closer aligned a programme is to commercial objectives, the more likely it is to succeed.
You don’t need to design and run your own charitable delivery programme from the ground up. In fact, in most cases we’d advise against it.
Once you’ve decided on a cause, look for community organisations or non-profits already working in this area. They’ll have years of experience, be passionate and knowledgeable. They’ll bring ideas and help design a programme that meets your objectives and has real impact on the ground.
Take the time to consider what you might be able to offer the charity as a compliment to their current expertise.
Sometimes that might be bodies on the ground helping out with manual skills. But more often it might be specific skill sharing to help them build capacity, for example in marketing or IT; specialists coming in to provide consultancy advice and actionable plans to solve real business problems can be invaluable.
Many charities now offer team-building days for companies. Remember, any time planning and hosting external teams is time not helping beneficiaries on the front line, so expect to make a donation in return.
If you want to make a real difference, fundraising is always the most useful thing you can do for a charity.
Engage teams at all levels – internal comms to help staff feel fulfilled, HR to sell social impact to prospective young talent, marketing and PR people to push to external audiences.
The more looped-in they are, the better.
Other considerations; is there a CEO or leader in the org who can become a figurehead and voice for the cause? An individual seen to be taking a stance can play well into an external visibility strategy and drive momentum internally.
Sometimes running a social impact programme in-house just isn’t a practical solution. You might be short on resource, time or expertise. Or all three.
Working with an external partner like Raise Your Hands can offer an attractive alternative.
Raise Your Hands works with a platform of exceptional small charities. We carry out due diligence, then work with company partners to find mutually beneficial overlaps, and help them meet their social impact goals.
If you would like to discuss your objectives further, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on how to engage your staff with your social impact objectives, take a look at our Dot Impact programme.
This is a resource for companies posted on 17 August 2022.