Finding the Purpose Fit
Introducing our new series, plus how CSR works in 10 departments
As the pitch of social and environmental crises continues to rise, responsible business leaders are taking the search to leverage their companies’ competency to do more good with much greater seriousness. Sometimes that means launching the first corporate social responsibility (CSR) or social impact program—other times it means retrofitting their existing programs for the modern workplace.
I’ve seen companies at every point of the spectrum on this over the years. From Airbnb to Kyndryl, some have set a high bar by finding innovative ways of making their social impact teams inextricable from their organizational structure.
However, many still struggle to articulate what it means to “do well in business by doing good for the world” to their various stakeholders, nevermind launch and run an effective program.
“Finding the Purpose Fit” is our attempt at demystifying corporate social responsibility. Through our series of explainers, we want to help managers start or reform their social impact programs for the modern workplace. I’ll also talk shop with some changemakers that I think are pushing our space in the right direction.
This series has three main objectives, each of which is meant to help CSR practitioners. We hope to:
- Add greater clarity to the day-to-day work of CSR
- Help make the business case for as many departments as we can
- Show how teams will collaborate more closely with each other to do good deeds
That said, before suggesting a modernization of your company’s program, or pitching the first-ever program, it would be smart to think about how those initiatives would work at your company. Let’s take a closer look at how 10 departments might think about how CSR applies to their day-to-day work.
What’s top-of-mind: Alignment
The backstory: Regardless of how advanced your company’s environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) programs are, your leadership already knows how important it is for businesses to take greater responsibility. Eighty percent of CEOs currently expect ESG investments to pay off in five years. The challenge now is to understand how to thoroughly suffuse sustainable principles throughout at every point in the enterprise so that ESG commitments are linked to real policies and outcomes.
Our recommendation: Dedicate the bulk of your time to crafting and articulating a clear, concrete, and achievable plan. Think of it as the rubric your leadership will use to think through how the company as it currently exists can be steered in a more sustainable direction. And standby with talking points on the business case for ESG, you will need to refer back to them for recalibration once the discussion with your leadership progresses to the implementation stage. Vantage, our monthly newsletter, aims to help leaders take the long view, with curated industry news and analysis of emerging trends in the impact space. Subscribe now to read the introduction and October installment.
2. MARKETING & COMMUNICATIONS
What’s top-of-mind: Reputation
The backstory: Talking to prospective clients and the general public rarely takes the same shape, but when it comes to ESG it’s important to be consistent, as well as consistently honest. In the U.S. alone, 68 percent of executives openly admit their companies do not always make good on their promises to be more sustainable. The vast majority of those aren’t being sneaky—they need a stronger sense of direction, which starts with understanding the problem they are trying to solve and how their company is uniquely positioned to make a difference. Strong narrative is central to that process.
Our recommendation: Set ambitious goals but avoid overstating actual achievements. A good way to think about this balance is through the lens of your company’s superpower, whatever that may be. If your strategy serves as a natural extension of your superpower, you’ll simultaneously strengthen the legitimacy of your ESG message and enhance your actual social and environmental impact. It is a delicate balance. That’s why we launched our “Social Impact Storytelling” series—to help purpose-minded leaders better articulate their intentions and initiatives.
What’s top-of-mind: Authentic partnerships
The backstory: Your sales team needs to be able to speak intelligibly on a wide range of subjects with their prospects, and whether they have access to compelling, up-to-date social and environmental impact information could help them close more deals. Because of the sheer size of their CSR programs, prospects at large companies especially may be able to discern whether your mission aligns with theirs just from the authenticity of conversations about impact.
Our recommendation: Ask for a huddle between sales and social impact teams to answer this question: What is the one most crucial problem we are trying to solve, and how can we best communicate it with prospects from discovery to close? For help thinking through how ESG will strengthen your sales pitch, check out these three takeaways from Deed’s VP of Partner Success Olivia Boger’s talk, “The Power of Purpose.”
4. HUMAN RESOURCES
What’s top-of-mind: Employee engagement and retention
The backstory: Your human resources team can also help employees feel a greater sense of purpose and belonging at work by telling the story of your company’s social and environmental impact. Today, 70 percent of employees say that their sense of purpose in life is primarily defined by their work. It’s likely that they are thinking about the fulfillment they get from their career at least as much as the broader mission to which their work contributes. From the hiring process to stronger diversity and inclusion efforts and long-term retention, the HR team is often the first to see how CSR uplifts your people.
Our recommendation: If you’re interviewing for a new role, make it standard practice to ask candidates “What cause matters most to you?” or “Do you support any nonprofits?” You could also spotlight their favorite causes on your website (we do this on our “Meet the Team” page). Also, adding benefits like donation gift matching to employees’ favorite causes, or offering volunteer time off (VTO), can go a long way in showing employees that the company cares about what their employees care about.
5. TECHNICAL TEAMS INCLUDING HRIS, SSO, & PAYROLL
What’s top-of-mind: Saving time
The backstory: If you’re introducing a new social impact platform to your company, your technical team will be rightly suspicious that they are in for a big lift. The good news is that modern platforms can be integrated easily with your company’s human resources information systems (HRIS), single sign-on (SSO), payroll, and other crucial systems.
Our recommendation: Make sure to involve your technical teams in the discussion early and often to make sure that their concerns are addressed and that they are fully aware of the time-saving integrations available. You’ll want to clearly communicate the business need to your tech teams so that they understand the value a social impact platform will bring to your company. Especially agile partners may even be able to accommodate new integrations for your company, so knowing what issues to raise with the social impact platform’s point of contact is crucial, too.
What’s top-of-mind: Liability
The backstory: General counsel are increasingly viewed as companies’ “voice of conscience,” and that responsibility is not without complications. Recent studies suggest that even well-intended diversity and inclusion initiatives can fail and even do harm to women and people of color on staff if they seem to be primarily implemented to provide the company cover from any potential wrongdoing. The same is true for compliance with welcomed Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) disclosure rules, which many inside counsel fear could be simultaneously in their companies’ long-term financial interests and pose immediate legal and regulatory risk. Situated in the center of the full gambit of social and environmental impact initiatives, your legal team is tasked with the complex and delicate work of protecting both real people and corporate entities from undue harm.
Our recommendation: Inside counsel are aware of their responsibility to protect your company and its people, but it is important to keep them informed at every stage of the conversation around social and environmental impact so that they can identify and mitigate any potential risks. Make sure that the organizations you partner with in your social and environmental impact programs conduct extensive vetting and due diligence at every link of the chain.
What’s top-of-mind: Austerity
The backstory: Few people know just how steep a challenge the effective management of a large-scale budget is than the finance team. From compliance with the SEC’s disclosure rules to allocating budget to employee resource groups (ERG), CFOs and their teams can determine the efficacy of a wide range of social and environmental initiatives.
Our recommendation: Give your CFO every reason to champion social and environmental impact. Make it standard procedure to mock up as detailed a budget as possible with any proposals for new or renewed CSR programs, and include any information about their impact that could reasonably tie them to the company’s financial wellbeing and long-term success. Think about adding asks for budget items like matching, volunteer grants, social impact platforms, volunteer events, and VTO. Use industry insights such as the Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose’s (CECP) annual “Giving In Numbers” report to help guide you when estimating engagement for the total budget to ask for.
8. DATA PRIVACY, TRUST, & COMPLIANCE
What’s top-of-mind: Reliability
The backstory: From compliance to reputational and ethical issues, establishing trust between your company and all its stakeholders is of the utmost importance. The Financial Times’ chief economist Martin Wolf recently said that confidence in a nation and its government is an achievement of years that can be lost in days—in a world of turmoil you must demonstrate that you have a coherent and sensible plan. This logic extends to business, and your trust and compliance teams are your company’s way of winning trust from your clients, partners, and the general public by upholding the highest standard of data privacy.
Our recommendation: You’ll need to understand the extent of your trust and compliance team’s approval processes for new vendors and partner nonprofits in order to ensure the smooth onboarding of any new social and environmental impact platform. Find out early if there is a vendor risk assessment questionnaire, data privacy addendum, or any other necessary procedures to follow. Without a working knowledge—and appreciation—of the amount of time needed to ensure a high standard of security, it will be impossible to clearly communicate your program’s quarterly and annual goals—otherwise you may miss important deadlines for your platform, program, and/or campaign go-live dates.
What’s top-of-mind: Impact
The backstory: Corporate foundations have the potential to dramatically improve an organization’s triple bottom line (that’s people, planet, and profit). The IRS allows companies to deduct a greater percentage of their contributions to their own foundations as business expenses than they can to all other nonprofit organizations because of the goodwill advertising generated by philanthropy. Navigating self-dealing rules and staying in compliance can be difficult at first, but creating a symbiotic relationship between business goals and social and environmental impact will be well worth the effort.
Our recommendation: CSR admins on the company side should work with foundation teams to avoid redundancy and maximize employee and consumer awareness of the organization’s social and environmental impact. You can more effectively tell the story of your progress through joint public relations and marketing campaigns that incorporate all your programming, from employee giving and volunteerism to grantmaking and more. Many foundations now invest directly in ESG through responsible investment and support for nonprofits, with the goal of more closely aligning their business and impact goals.
What’s top-of-mind: Profitability
The backstory: The board of directors have several areas of concern which, while not in conflict, cannot be addressed by a single plan. It’s unfortunate that ESG is often talked about as a streamlined, cohesive governance strategy, when really from a managerial perspective, it refers to a wide set of concrete goals and more ambitious aims. Many boards are now concerned with emerging reporting requirements, from DEIB to ESG, and need to have the tools and data that show the company is hitting its goals.
Our recommendation: Make sure impact is on the quarterly board meeting agenda, and that directors feel prepared to dig into the numbers. Your focus should be on communicating the goals of your programs, and showing how the tools you use are encouraging the engagement and capturing the data needed for success. It’s important to demonstrate the value added back to the business through clear and consistent messaging. Ask yourself, what is the board discussing? What is top of mind for our objectives and OKRS this year? And how will the social impact program I am rolling out align with these objectives?
At the end of the day, we need to be able to talk with our colleagues about how important causes affect their day-to-day lives. Sometimes that will mean engaging them on their deeper passions. Other times it means asking them to take on extra responsibilities at work. We need to be prepared for both kinds of conversations, because that’s what it will take to leverage the full muscle of organizations to do good in the world.
Our “Finding the Purpose Fit” series will lay out clear, actionable plans for more closely aligning business practices with company mission. We’ll drill down into the big, well-known challenges of ESG, like board diversity, and bring attention to less obvious issues that require serious attention, like HRIS and payroll.
No matter how well we do at touching on the seen and unseen challenges facing CSR practitioners today, we know that sometimes it’s a better use of time to get straight to a conversation about what tech solutions are available now. We’ve helped Fortune 500s from adidas to Airbnb scale their social and environmental impact, and we’d love to show you what our design-forward platform and dedicated partner success team have to offer your company, too. Interested in learning more? Feel free to reach out on LinkedIn or book a demo today.
VP of Sales