The Great Recession caused a dip in corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs as companies cut budgets in order to remain profitable. As the economy improves in 2010, many predict increased growth in CSR activities since “doing good” builds brand reputations and increases sales.
Innovative CSR guru Rob Densen shares my point of view, predicting that integrated marketing programs that include CSR will grow in 2010. I asked Rob to start off the new year of Culpwrit with this guest post focusing on CSR.
Astruggling economy notwithstanding, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs maintained critical momentum in 2009. Maybe there is hope for my treatment for a TV show called CSR that integrates the cast and plot-lines of CSI and ER. So what if they’re on different networks? Ridiculous, yeah, I know. Clearly, I need to stick to my day job at Tiller, LLC.
At Tiller, we have a slightly different take on CSR. We believe it is corporately responsible to grow the bottom line. But we also believe that CSR programs can – and, ideally, should – help companies build both brand and business while meaningfully advancing customer concerns and needs. We call this Cause Commerce.™
Since we opened our doors seven years ago, we’ve experienced overwhelming interest in our approach among new and recent college graduates. Young people understand business needs to act in customer-aligned sorts of ways. They want to work in Corporate America and they want to make a difference in society; they’re just looking for an opportunity.
To me, the challenge for those of us who want to work in this space – almost-Social-Security-eligible-script-writing-CSR consultants or recent college graduates alike – is growing the pie. We need to educate, encourage, and embolden Corporate America, demonstrating the power of a CSR program conceived and executed at the intersection of corporate expertise and social need. As long as CSR programs are viewed as slight, unessential, at the periphery, job opportunities will be too few and too far between – for all of us. So how do we grow the pie?
I’m a big believer in the power of an irresistible idea. It’s a mistake to think of CSR as a PR off-shoot. It’s not. PR is just the public-facing communications piece. CSR programs rise and fall on the quality of the underlying idea. And the more that idea speaks directly to a core corporate competency while addressing a critical social need, the better. And that idea can come from anyone, anywhere and anytime. It may seem apocryphal but it’s not: Teach For America had its origins in founder Wendy Kopp’s senior thesis. If you’re really interested in transformational change, then what are you waiting for?
This may come as disappointing news, but I don’ have tons of links and references for you. To be sure, social media are incredibly useful and there are a handful of websites with CSR/CSR-like job postings: causemarketingforum.com comes most immediately to mind. But it’s not like there are hundreds of job posting at these sites. My advice is don’t look for a job; create one.
• Think about your current employer. Is there an overlooked opportunity or need? When I was at OppenheimerFunds, we built the first nationwide advocacy program designed to empower women with their money, encouraging millions of women into the markets during a six-year stretch when, believe it or not, the market had a compound annual growth rate of 25%. Great for women, great for OppenheimerFunds Obvious cause, yet no one had taken it on before.
• Is there a corporate/non-profit relationship that makes particular sense? One of our clients, Comfort Zone Camp, the nation’s leading bereavement camp for kids, and New York Life, one of the nation’s largest and best-regarded life insurers, have created a very logical and mutually beneficial relationship that will raise national awareness of childhood loss while burnishing the New York Life brand. Bring the company to the non-profit or the non-profit to the company.
• What about a cause that is particularly meaningful to you? Come up with an idea and a logical corporate sponsor, and then go sell it in. There are tons of examples of great corporate/cause relationships across a wide range of issues – Pedigree/Pet Adoption, Olay/Skin Cancer, Scholastic/Border’s/Child Literacy. These ideas originated somewhere. In my experience, the people at non-profits and in Corporate America responsible for these sorts of partnerships are generally willing to listen to a great idea.
• Stay alert, consume media –social and otherwise – critically. There are a million great CSR platforms just waiting to be discovered. It’s just a matter of connecting the dots.
I know the prospect of creating a CSR platform must seem daunting. Ambitious, sure. Doable? With energy and conviction and imagination, you bet. Let me end with the words of someone, Michelangelo, who aimed – and worked – high: “The greatest danger for most of us is not that we aim too high and miss it; it’s that we aim to low and make it.”