Let’s say you’re a company that cares. Cares about its employees, customers, communities, and the world at large. And you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is, but you need to make sure this is done in a way that is advantageous to the business. How do you start?
Here are a few questions that might help to frame the solution for you:
What are your core business and core competencies?
Very often, companies start in a rather haphazard place with social responsibility, because of a relationship (my business partner has a golf tournament for a local charity). Best to start with a clear understanding of what you’re good at and what you deliver to the marketplace.
What do our employees care about the most and why?
Very often, social programs emerge from employees themselves, as in CIBC’s Run for the Cure. Many of your employees are already volunteering their time, networks and dollars to causes. It would be good for you to know what their interests are, and even the act of asking—sends the right message.
What kind of impacts do our products and business activities have on the communities in which we operate?
A conscious company in today’s economy has a keen understanding of the social, environmental and economic impacts of its business activities. Sometimes a social program begins right there, as with apparel companies who know that exploitation of child workers is an endemic issue in their category. Taking proactive and humane steps to prevent and address these issues—is a must.
How can we meaningfully differentiate our social investments from our competition and category?
Once you’ve arrived at an issue area and a stance or approach that speaks to your core values, business interests and employees’ passions, then you’ll want to make sure that you’re framing and communicating your values and investments in a way that is distinctive and on-brand. Two companies may both support the issue of clean water, such as Coke or the Royal Bank of Canada, but how they approach it and communicate on it—are very distinguishable.
Finally, the criteria that should be applied to any social program include:
• Authenticity: is it coming from a real and authentic place, and not merely a superficial gesture?
• Relevance: is it relevant to our employees, communities, consumers, customers?
• Shelf life: is this something we can commit to for the long haul, vs. just a flash in the pan?
In this way, by the time a company communicates or “advertises” on the issues that matter, the work will never be seen as mere window dressing. It will be built into the entire experience that the public has of what the company stands for and has to offer the world.