Where to focus your CSR efforts?

Starting or renovating a corporate social responsibility program at your organization? It can be hard to know where to focus your efforts and how to do so to have the greatest impact, both socially and with your audience. These steps will help ensure your program is as effective as possible.

Get input.

One of the biggest CSR mistakes you can make is creating your program in a vacuum. It’s easy to overlook a good program to invest in when you have limited input, and soliciting ideas from your employees will help them feel more involved in the process—leading to a higher likelihood they will be engaged at work and in your CSR efforts.

Aim where your audience is.

Knowing your customer base and buyer personas will help you to make an informed decision about the best focus for your efforts. If your customers are mostly urban and highly educated, supporting the arts or education will likely mean the most to them; if your base is mostly rural and blue-collar, supporting kids programming and food security may be a better fit. When considering which of many worthy causes to fund, it's important to consider how your audience perceives their work.

Many nonprofits have a rough idea where their current supporters are. If they are willing to share that information, you can find out what kind of geographic overlap you share.

Pick a cause that backs your brand.

It’s important to consider the ways your brand interacts with the cause you pick. There are three ways this could play out:

1. Supporting

A cause that aligns closely with your brand and identity as a company can help drive that home for your audience. If you are an innovative company with a deep tradition of female empowerment and high-ranking female executives, supporting something like Girls Who Code or other nonprofits focused on educating young women in STEM could highlight that positive aspect of your brand.

2. Mitigating

If your company is sometimes criticized for a specific element of what you do, supporting a cause that helps with the overall issue can potentially counteract that negative perception. For example, if you struggle to overcome perceptions of being old-fashioned or behind-the-times, supporting an innovative cause or nonprofit can help shift perceptions of your organization. Be careful with attempting this—a failure to manage public perception or publicity around this can easily backfire and lead to assumptions that you are simply using the cause for your own ends.

3. Unrelated

Perhaps the most dangerous way that corporate social responsibility can interact with your brand is when it seems completely unrelated. This can take place if the cause is not relevant to your immediate context or feels outside the scope of what your organization should do. An urban company supporting a rural cause without some significant connection will confuse your audience and prevent your CSR from having a positive effect on your company’s reputation.

Focus on depth, not breadth.

Contributing a small amount to 20 causes has less impact than a moderate amount to a few, both in terms of helping the community and showing your organization’s commitment to giving back. Pick a few causes that you determined using the above steps and focus your contributions on those. Have employees volunteer, give financially, and spread the word about these causes.

Corporate social responsibility can seem like an intimidating program to start, especially when you are trying to make an impact and connect with your audience. By following these easy steps, you can set your CSR efforts for success!