How do I make sure our CSR has a real impact?

With the prevalence of Corporate Social Responsibility programs around, it can feel like a formality. Your company contributes time and money, but are you making a real difference? How can you know? Here are a few ways to ensure your CSR efforts make a tangible impact in your community.

Check the numbers

Nonprofits are required to publish annual reports and file various disclosure statements (like a 990 and audited financials) with the government. These different resources can help you understand where the money goes, as well as what kind of impact the organization has. Many nonprofits will publish these statistics openly, as it allows them to prove to funders and the community that they are providing significant value.

One disclaimer here—beware of focusing on just one set of numbers. A popular statistic that nonprofits and funders alike ask for revolves around the percentage of funds that are spent on programs to benefit the community versus the percentage spent on administrative and fundraising costs. At first glance, administrative and fundraising costs seem like organizational bloat that illustrates a lack of efficiency. However, these areas also cover some of the investment in long-term strategy and planning that is required for organizations to continue to be effective in a changing environment—low numbers don’t necessarily mean the organization is more effective than another. Don’t rely just on these percentages, but on all of the numbers that are available to you.

Do your research

Checking the numbers is part of doing your research, but it’s also important to do some qualitative research. Try asking employees or other businesses in the area about their perception of the group—asking employees will help to build greater employee engagement in your efforts and will give you insight into the group’s public reputation. Many cities have nonprofit awards that are given out each year that can also provide some insight.

Justify your dollars with impact

One of the tricks most development managers learn is to tie the contribution that a person or company makes to a specific tangible impact. If you can tie your efforts to a certain number of meals, the sponsorship of a particular program, or a project, your team will understand why it’s important.

Meet the organization

Establish a relationship with the organization. Most nonprofits are glad to meet with current or potential funders. Go for a tour of their facilities to learn more and ask more questions, meet with their development team or executive director, and volunteer with them. It will help you and your team feel more connected to your contributions and give you a better idea of how your money and time is being used.

Have one person and every person own it

Unless you work for a particularly large company, there is unlikely to be an assigned job just for corporate social responsibility. Maybe your HR department handles it, or one of your executives—no matter what, it can often be an add on to many other job tasks. However, if you designate one employee to own and help facilitate the program, you can streamline its implementation and ensure the effort has a cohesive goal.

There is one danger in doing this—if one person owns the effort, it can easily become separate from the day-to-day operations of your firm and, soon, and afterthought. The best way to prevent this? Give everyone on your team opportunities to participate in a meaningful way. Maybe that involves having employees sign up to lead a volunteer team of your staff at a nonprofit or represent the company at a fundraising event—no matter what, these chances to be a part of the work in more ways than just giving a donation will help to grow employee investment in the project.

While measuring the impact of your CSR can be challenging, following these best practices will ensure that your company is making a real difference in your community. Thank you for all you do!