Tips for Establishing a Corporate Social Responsibility Program

As we head into the holiday season, many organizations are focused on giving back in some way. While some may choose to give a large donation or do some volunteer work around the holidays, other organizations are discovering the benefits of year-round giving in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs.

Not only do these programs enrich the lives of the people that work at your company and the community you live in, but they also help solidify your company’s values all year long.

IOA Christmas Caroling

If you’re just starting out small by planting the seed, with a little structure and the right people in place, you can cultivate those ideas and have a big impact on your colleagues and community. Here are ways human resource directors and managers can spearhead a program, including key things to consider.

Creating a Formal CSR Program

There are probably individuals at your company who are giving back on their own in some way, be it donations or volunteerism. Likewise, there may be a number of people who value the idea of giving back, but just haven’t taken the initiative.

That’s why it’s so important to formalize a program—you can harness the motivation and desires of a percentage of folks who are ready to participate in something like CSR.

If you’ve never done anything like this before, it can feel daunting (especially if you’re at a larger company). It’s more manageable if you have a little help with how to take those first steps.

A Background on Our CSR Program

I head up the Woodruff Sawyer CSR program, CARE, and have been doing so for about three-and-a-half years. When I took the program over, it was still in its modest beginnings.

The program began with a desire to impact the community and consisted of seven members. Once a formal structure was established, it soared.

Today, we are 71 members strong, which accounts for nearly 20 percent of our company. We’re involved in approximately 7 to 10 nonprofits and charities year-round, and are responsible for community volunteerism and donations upon which many organizations rely.

Here are some tips leading to our successful Woodruff Sawyer CSR program to help you on your journey …

  1. Motivate and Inspire Management.
    One of the most important steps to having a successful CSR program is the company leadership buy-in. Without this, it can be difficult for a program to catch fire.

There will no doubt be some important questions management will want to explore up front, so you’ll want to be prepared for those. This includes things like time off and resources dedicated to the program, and program ROI.

If there are currently annual corporate donations already in place, this is a good starting point for management and leaders of your company. You can funnel that through a more formal CSR program instead, with a focus on volunteerism, and it can sometimes go much further.

What does management buy-in look like? Here at Woodruff Sawyer, we do things like carve out time in all-company meetings to talk about our CARE program and further solidify its place in the company culture.

We’ve also promoted the program at other company events such as health fairs or during open enrollment coordinated by various departments, so along with senior management, cross-department cooperation and relationships are key.

  1. Establishing a Leadership Team.
    Without having a dedicated team heading up the CSR program, the results can be disjointed. This is a key component of the structure you want to have in place to make it work.When we took our CARE program to the next level, we implemented committee chairs, each with a distinct responsibility and title. Consider what leaders you might put into place, including roles like:
  • President
  • Vice president
  • Secretary
  • Communications
  • Recruiting
  • Finance
  • Event organization

Each of these roles can have an important part to play when there are so many moving parts.

  1. Choosing a Cause.
    It's inevitable that with so many people involved, there will be different opinions and desires on the causes the company should get involved in. It’s best to first establish a few ground rules.

First, decide on the causes your company won’t pursue. This may include politically charged issues and issues that could cause conflict at the staff level (an example of the latter would be local schools).

If you're a company with several different locations, you may establish rules that each city determine its own local cause, or you might work with a national organization that has presence in all cities.

Once you’ve established a list of potential causes and organizations, consider making the final decision a democratic vote. At Woodruff Sawyer, we allow all our CARE members to choose the final outcome, and the causes with the most votes win our focus for the year.

  1. Establishing Logistics.
    There are a lot of little details that go into a CSR program, so you’ll want to consider things like:
  • How often will you hold an event?
  • What will those events looks like—donations? Hands-on work? Lunch-and-learns?
  • Will you establish days that are set aside for on-site volunteerism each year for all employees?
  • What relationships need to be established with nonprofits and charitable organizations to make this successful?

Giving back during the holidays is great, and yearly donations do make a difference. Consider the impact you could have on staff morale, company culture and the lives of those in your community if you made those efforts stretch year-round. Think about making next year the year you formalize a CSR program at your place of business.



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