As the saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Even if some leaders don’t see that, employees and consumers certainly do.
Without a strong community, even a large company will struggle to survive. And as older generations transition out of the workforce, that’s only going to become truer. Three-quarters of Millennial workers will take a pay cut for the opportunity to serve a socially responsible company.
Not every effort will resonate with people — inside or outside your company. There are a few ways to pinpoint opportunities that will support causes you care about and capture people’s attention.
Guidelines for Giving Back
Although there’s no wrong way to give back, there are a few key guidelines you should look for:
Keep it relevant.
Patagonia’s 1% For the Planet initiative makes sense. Imagine, instead, if the outdoor brand were to support something like cancer research.
Every dollar invested in defeating cancer is well spent. But consumers would likely be left scratching their heads, and Patagonia’s team likely wouldn’t have the background knowledge to maximize its investment.
Make it meaningful.
Tom’s Shoes recently moved away from its “One for One” model not because shoes aren’t considered necessary around the world, but because different areas of the world have different needs. Garment factory workers in third-world countries may need water or housing more than they need another pair of shoes.
Promote it — but don’t overdo it.
Nothing says “just for show” like spending more to promote a CSR campaign than you spent on the initiative itself. Don’t be afraid to get the word out, but ask whether you could be doing more good with the amount you’re spending on marketing. As a rule of thumb, spend less than a quarter of your overall investment on marketing.
Those strategy-level CSR concerns matter. But what consumers really care about is how the rubber meets the road.
CSR Efforts That Consumers Embrace
Consumers know donations do good in the world. But they also see money as a table-stakes approach to corporate social responsibility. To show you’re serious, consider:
1. Planting trees
Industrialization has certainly moved economies forward, but it comes at a cost: damage to our planet. The production of hazardous materials, the use of pesticides, and the disposal of old goods all degrade our environment.
Many companies are working to reduce their emissions, create reusable packaging, and change production procedures, which is great. But others, like Woodchuck USA, are actually working to restore damaged lands. Woodchuck’s Buy One Plant One initiative plants a tree for every customized wooden item it sells.
What’s more, Woodchuck USA lets other companies contribute. Land Rover, in conjunction with Woodchuck, planted 20,000 trees by purchasing sustainable gifts for its clients and employees. If that money’s going to be spent, anyway, why not use it to give back?
There’s nothing more powerful than guidance from someone who’s been there, done that. Encourage employees to use their time to lift others up.
This doesn’t have to be an in-person initiative. Bank of America’s “Better Money Habits” provides financial education to single mothers, working families, and elderly people nearing retirement.
Notice how Bank of America’s program aligns with its business and moves beyond monetary donations. Employees can help vulnerable members of the Bank of America community — especially those who otherwise might not be able to afford financial counseling — to create economic mobility.
3. Feeding the hungry
Another popular way that organizations are moving beyond financial support is in feeding hungry people. While we often think of hunger as a third-world problem, it’s here, too. In the U.S., more than 37 million people struggle with hunger, including more than 11 million children.
Any food service company or restaurant can make a difference here. Panera Bread gives daily contributions through its Day-End Dough-Nation program. Each location donates its unsold bread and baked goods to local hunger relief organizations. Panera Bread could easily sell day-old items at a discounted rate, but it instead chooses to feed those in need — aligning with its commitment to feeding people fresh, high-quality foods.
4. Protecting kids
Preventing bullying is the sort of CSR initiative everyone can get behind. But while financing anti-bullying programs is important, so is showing kids what kindness looks like.
Take Kind Lips, a lip balm company that emphasizes kindness. For every product sold, Kind Lips donates 20% of profits to its anti-bullying partners. In addition to $30,000 in financial donations, Kind Lips has given 40,000 tubes to students to teach kindness.
Partnerships, which show solidarity, also work well for child-related causes. Kind Lips’ kindness caught the attention of Ellen DeGeneres. Be Kind by Ellen is the television personality’s subscription service full of her favorite handpicked products that are making a difference around the world.
Corporate social responsibility is evolving. Although the principles behind it aren’t new, the ways companies demonstrate a social conscience are changing. Small actions add up, both in the eyes of consumers and in the future of our world.