Blog Post

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Best Practices

July 25, 2017

This article is an excerpt from a Diversity Best Practices member research report. Our research reports are usually accessible only to Diversity Best Practices’ member companies. If you are a member company, you can access the full report here. Not a member? Learn more about how to become a member here.

According to Harvard Business Review, the purpose of CSR is to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and value. The term generally applies to efforts that go beyond what may be required by regulators or environmental protection groups.

Understanding best practices associated with CSR will ensure companies are effectively addressing their part in environmental and social well-being. PR News lists 10 best practices that will help companies to sustain relationships with internal and external stakeholders:

  1. Research the Social Media Habits of Stakeholders Involved with Your CSR Program: By understanding the media consumption habits of all stakeholder groups, you may successfully incorporate strategies of dialogue. Conduct a social media communications audit that defines each stakeholder group and its typical social media habits.
  2. Create an Inventory of CSR Communications Materials Based on Your Message Strategy: This is a back-to-basics move that allows you to articulate your key messages for each audience. Typical communications vehicles may include news releases, fact sheets, biographies, statistics and articles.
  3. Plan Ahead by Creating a Calendar of Sequential CSR Correspondence: As you examine the CSR program rollout, consider the timing of communications to each stakeholder group. Through coordinated timing, you can create a synergistic effect of awareness and engagement. Establish a timeline for communication that may include daily, weekly and monthly activities to bolster conversation.
  4. Use Your Personal Voice and the Corporate Voice to Convey CSR: As a PR professional, you become a facilitator of dialogue. As a thought leader, you may convey sentiments for meaningful results. By extending beyond the corporate voice, the CSR program gains personality and may promote engagement.
  5. Monitor the Contemporary Environment and Seize Opportunities: A CSR campaign occurs in a dynamic landscape. Find opportunities to connect with news, trends and strategic aspects of the company’s business to foster dialogue with all stakeholder groups.
  6. Leverage Technology Tools: Based on your social media audit conducted at the beginning of the program, you have gained insight about technology use for your stakeholders. While preferred social media channels may remain at the foundation of your communications program, purposefully integrate emerging technologies to advance dialogues.
  7. Reward Your CSR Community: As the CSR program matures, your community will emerge as a robust source of information and dialogue. You may reward your community by giving it news it can use such as articles, additional facts, CSR program updates and other content. By encouraging it to share this information in the social media environment, you will further propel engagement with your CSR program.
  8. Listen to Your CSR Stakeholders and Measure Communications: Before you speak, write or engage with your community, listen and observe trends. You may utilize social media monitoring tools that will allow you to monitor sentiments regarding specific topics. The dialogue that you create will become a valuable information resource, as you will learn myths and misperceptions that exist about the CSR program, and you will discern the specific key messages resonating with stakeholders. Utilize the Barcelona Principles of PR measurement and routinely evaluate social media monitoring technologies.
  9. Adapt Your CSR Program If Dialogic Efforts Fail: As you endeavor to create a CSR community, the precise timing of messages, use of communications channels and engagement with stakeholders may stall or fail. If measurement reveals sparse dialogue and the absence of community formation, it’s time to devise new message approaches, identify different channels of communication and explore alternative media outlets.
  10. Maintain Your Own CSR Best Practices and Repeat Success: During the campaign, conduct self-assessment, based on your social media monitoring. Evaluate honestly the success of your community building effort and itemize the sequential steps taken to create your CSR communication best practices.

Here are some examples of how Diversity Best Practice member companies are putting these practices into action.

PNC Financial Services Group – Grow Up Great

PNC has invested $350 million in Grow Up Great, a multi-year, bilingual initiative that provides leadership, advocacy, funding, tools and volunteers to help parents, caregivers and communities prepare young children for success in school and life. The Harvard Business Review has noted admiringly how PNC has “pruned its disparate CSR programs” and zeroed in on early education with Grow Up Great. In so doing, PNC has made its community involvement easily identifiable to its own employees, which may be the most important element of any CSR initiative. Case in point: PNC employees have volunteered more than 650,000 hours and donated more than 933,000 classroom items as part of Grow Up Great.
Since 2004, Grow Up Great has distributed more than $121 million in grants that help young children prepare for school by focusing on readiness in vocabulary development, math, science, financial education and the arts. Through these grants to nonprofit organizations, the program has impacted approximately 3 million children throughout 19 states and the District of Columbia.

JetBlue – Imaginations Take Flight with JetBlue’s Soar with Reading Initiative

Since launching the award-winning Soar with Reading program in 2011, JetBlue has provided more than $2.25 million worth of books to children throughout its network. The program started as a way to beat the “summer slide,” the tendency for students, especially those in low-income areas, to lose some of the achievement gains made during the previous year over the summer break.

Important goals for the 2016 campaign were to continue to build program awareness and distribute more books to children in need via vending machines and simultaneously make a positive impact on children’s reading habits in Detroit. To launch the program and spread the message about the program and the vending machines, JetBlue set out to create buzz via national media attention and social engagement and again enlisted celebrity ambassador Victoria Justice, to engage her fanbase and inspire kids to read.

The two-month program garnered more than 325 million earned, traditional and social media impressions. Top media placements included ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Extra TV online, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Bustle, DCist, Detroit Free Press and The Sun Sentinel. The program also received an outpouring of support from education experts and nonprofits, including New York Times chief book critic Michiko Kakutani, New York University and CSPAN’s Book TV.

Northwestern Mutual

The Northwestern Mutual foundation works to improve the lives of children and families in need through financial support, volunteerism, thought leadership and collaboration with community partners. Their efforts are focused on combatting childhood cancer, promoting education, and making our hometown of Milwaukee a great destination. The Northwestern Mutual foundation, since it was created in 1992, has given 290 million dollars.

Northwestern Mutual’s childhood cancer program works to accelerate the search for cures for childhood cancer and to provide support for families fighting the disease. Employees and financial representatives lead fundraising events nationwide to raise awareness and funds for childhood cancer research. Northwestern Mutual has also funded research exploring cutting-edge alternatives to chemotherapy and radiation and supports work to better understand disparities in response to treatment or access to care.

Northwestern Mutual’s domestic offices support organizations within their communities that provide housing for families, send kids to camp or provide comfort kits for those diagnosed with cancer. In total, this program has donated over 12 million dollars and funded over 130,000 hours of research.

Note: the full research report includes additional case studies. To access the report, click here.