— April 3, 2019
Consumers have high expectations for companies to prioritize corporate social responsibility (CSR). At the same time, however, many consumers don’t make it a part of their decision-making process when buying — even though they want to support companies whose CSR initiatives resonate with them. So how should you approach CSR for your company when it often doesn’t directly translate into sales and revenue?
The way to work around this seeming double standard is to view your social mission as an opportunity for the company to have a higher calling to “do good.” This mission should be a part of your company’s DNA, not just a marketing tool to attract customers. Give back to local and global communities in a way that feels natural to you. The causes you champion should be authentically aligned with your company mission and employees.
Know that making causes a part of your core brand often causes people to hold you to a higher standard. Patagonia, for instance, is frequently subject to higher expectations precisely because it makes environmental issues central to its mission and brand.
The higher standard Patagonia is held to stems from the fact that its customers see the company as authentic and transparent. The company’s CSR efforts drive the way it engages with consumers and even go so far as to boldly encourage shoppers to not buy new products or to buy second-hand Patagonia products to promote sustainability and reduce harmful environmental impacts.
When you’re ready to commit to change that genuinely matters to you, use these four steps to proceed:
1. Narrow your CSR goals by identifying the causes that are most important to you. What major causes or significant issues inspire you to want to do something unselfish? Are you concerned about homelessness, access to education for low-income families, or maybe climate change? Home in on a few issues that personally concern you.
And don’t worry if you alone can’t solve the problem. Just be genuinely passionate about rallying behind whatever issue you identify. Apple, for example, has donated millions of dollars to human rights and healthcare projects, both of which are causes that personally resonate with CEO Tim Cook.
2. Gauge how effective your choice is by talking to stakeholders. How do your founders, employees, ambassadors, and customers feel about these causes? Making sure everyone is aligned is critical. Employees and ambassadors need to talk about your company’s CSR goals in a way that’s genuine and passionate — customers will easily see through it if they don’t.
Gaining buy-in for your decision to do good shouldn’t be difficult as long as it’s a cause that genuinely matters to you, considering two-thirds of Generation Z and Millennials believe that companies can help solve social problems.
At 2920 Sleep, when we were identifying causes that mattered to us, we began with the common ground that we cared about climate change, sustainability, and consumer culture. From there, we reached out to Patagonia spokesperson Chip “Chipper Bro” Bell and our first ambassador, pro skier, and artist Chris Benchetler. Both were passionate about long-term environmental and sustainability issues, and this became central to guiding us as we developed our current CSR commitment.
3. Select the channel you want to use for your CSR mission. After you’ve completed the first two steps, find the right channel for your CSR goals. When we implemented our initiatives, we started with a companywide commitment to make decisions that benefit the environment, and then we worked with an umbrella organization — 1% for the Planet — that could help us direct our funds to the right place.
Murray Newlands, the founder of Influence People, suggests that companies “start taking the time now to participate in internal or external projects related directly to corporate social responsibility. This way, these regular projects will become a living example of the CSR values you are trying to promote.”
4. Find the right moment to unveil your CSR plan. Don’t view revealing your CSR plan to your customers as an avenue to revenue. Rather, think of it as an integral part of running a successful business. It allows you the opportunity to contribute to issues that matter to you and resonate with your customers.
For example, TOMS CEO Blake Mycoskie didn’t pay influencers to advertise. Instead, he revealed his CSR plan gradually as celebrities and others on social media shared the cause online, creating natural awareness.
Success in business doesn’t need to be measured by getting rich or your current valuation. In 10 years, when you look back at what you’ve accomplished, you might just find that your greatest accomplishment was doing something to better the world and help others.