When Companies Give, We All Win
Using corporate social responsibility to build a better community and build your business
Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR, has been around for decades but consumer awareness has grown tenfold in the last few years. Now many consumers are make purchasing decisions based on a businesses’ CSR or commitment to the community, environment and their employees. And millennials are choosing to work for companies based on their perceptions of employers’ engagement in initiatives that make their communities and the world a better place. So those businesses that didn’t care so much in the past about their role in helping the universe should jump on the CSR bandwagon.
For many consumers, CSR impacts not only brand perceptions but a cadre of personal decisions including which products or services they recommend to their friends, where to shop and even what investments to make or where to place their 401(k) dollars.
I have the privilege to work for a company that truly believes in giving back. It’s part of Cox Communications’ culture, so it makes my job a whole lot easier when it comes to telling our story. Some people view CSR as a company’s “window dressing” and an attempt to disillusion consumers and government agencies. At Cox Communications that’s not the case. As a family owned business founded on the principals of doing good in the community, being a good community citizen is engrained in our DNA, embodied in our mission and demonstrates to our customers what we stand for. Can your company say that?
Generally, CSR falls into three types of activities:
Corporate philanthropy. This is the area most people think of when they think of CSR. Businesses provide grants or sponsorships to support non-profits in the community from giving to the arts, homeless or hunger relief, to health organizations or others. Businesses also lend their people resources through community volunteerism initiatives either when limited funding is available or to augment financial investments they make in the community. Corporate philanthropy is often tied to corporate priorities. For instance as a technology company, Cox supports youth and education initiatives, including STEM learning programs, with technology and through financial support. Corporate philanthropy builds credibility in the community and with employees.
Operational effectiveness and risk management. Examples here may include diversity initiatives or sustainability programs, where the goal is to ensure that businesses are demonstrating that they are fully in compliance (or go above and beyond) with industry regulations. These programs also provide businesses with significant value and support external community relationships and mitigate operational risk.
Business drivers and value creation. CSR activities in this category, which provide the greatest value to businesses, demonstrate a shared value model where businesses and communities are working hand-in-hand to address social issues and needs in a way that is most meaningful within a community. On this business side, these activities generate innovation and drive business sustainability. On the community side, these programs offer significant impact to meet community needs. Examples here may be organizations in our community who support the United Way’s United for Children program that are having a meaningful impact on children and families in the poorest neighborhoods in Hampton Roads. Or the Cox Communications’ Connect2Compete program, that is bridging the digital divide for low-income families by providing those families with low-cost access to home internet services. Programs like these are a win-win for the business and the communities where corporate employees live, work, and raise families.
So what do consumers think about companies that are socially responsible? According to the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report where 30,000 consumers were polled in 60 countries, 55 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact, with the numbers for North America and Europe being 40-42 percent. Based on retail sales alone, Neilsen reports that 20 brands in nine countries that had sustainability claims promoted through marketing and public relations, on average increased their sales from 2-5 percent and those with brands that didn’t, sales only rose one percent. Consumers are interested in collaboration, the environment, investing in the community, corporate engagement and they are rewarding those companies that have strong CSR programs.
If your company hasn’t considered focusing on CSR, it’s time you did. When companies give, we all win.
Emma Inman, APR is the interim vice president of public & government affairs for Cox Communications Virginia, where she leads the company’s CSR initiatives and helps to manage the more than $6 million in cash and in-kind services that Cox Virginia gives to the communities it serves annually. You can reach Emma at Emma.Inman@cox.com.