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What is CSR?

This is the first of a series of blogs focusing on the meaning, implementation, function and future of CSR.

Over the last few decades, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become an essential principal to modern business. Once perceived as high-minded optimism, most of the entire business world has come to see the importance and power of proper CSR usage. Even though the concepts around CSR have been defined for decades, its implementations still remain hazy to many. How does a company strategically use CSR to create shared value, especially in the social media age? The answer lies in understanding the roots of CSR as a concept, and where its future lies.

There is no real first instance of CSR, with the concept of businesses or entrepreneurs using their power and wealth to give back to their communities going back centuries. However, the modern idea of CSR did not start cropping up until the 1950s. Economist Howard Bowen was one of the first to create a comprehensive definition of what was later dubbed CSR, stating in his landmark 1953 book Social Responsibilities of the Businessman that social responsibility “refers to the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the objectives and values of our society.”

Bowen was quite ahead of his time, for his concept of social responsibility would become far more prevalent in the 1960s, which was defined by social change and resistance to preconceived norms. Issues like Civil Rights, the Vietnam War, pollution and overpopulation motivated millions of Americans to take to the streets and demand change. What the business world learned from the 1960s was the importance of reflecting public concerns, and adapting to constantly evolving issues. This effect could be seen directly in the 1970s, when companies like Ben & Jerry’s and The Body Shop built their brands around addressing social and political issues first and foremost.

In the coming decades, brand integrity and outreach only grew in importance. No longer could a company simply be seen as a producer of products, but also as an agent responsible for social, political and environmental change. Yet in the age of the internet, consumers demand even more from the businesses they buy from.

The Future of CSR

According to a 2017 Cone Communications study, “87% [of participants] will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about.” In the 21st century, public image is everything to companies and consumers see their money as support. To ensure long-term sustainability, companies must use their CSR programs to grow and adapt their business practices.

But how can a company integrate CSR practices into their business in a strategic way? David Chandler, in his 2016 book Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility: Sustainable Value Creation, has isolated five major components of strategic corporate social responsibility (SCSR) which directly answer this question:

  1. CSR must be incorporated into company planning processes and corporate culture.
  2. All of a company’s actions directly reflect core operations.
  3. Companies must listen to their stakeholders’ desires, and have their opinions influence decision making.
  4. A company must shift from a short-term perspective to a mid- to long-term one.
  5. Companies must optimize shared value created.

Chandler highlights how CSR should work hand-in-hand with the other aspects of business, collaborating toward the best results for the company at large. In this model, CSR is used as an essential tool in business decision making, aligning the goals of shareholders, employees and customers toward a better and more efficient company. Yet, getting to that point is the most challenging facet of CSR application.

At Impactree, we know that CSR means something different to every company, which is why we made our platform easy to customize and incorporate into a business’ current or prospective CSR program.

How We Can Help

Impactree offers a completely customizable civic engagement platform which makes taking action for social and environmental issues simple and fun. Our platform offers companies a place to display their core beliefs, with personalized action hubs which aggregate powerful actions that make a visible difference in the world. These hubs quickly display what a company stands for, what organizations they are partnering with, and gives employees and customers a direct means of taking action. Choose from hundreds of actions already created by our issue experts, or make your own custom actions in minutes.

The effects of CSR outreach are often incalculable, taking years for results to manifest. Impactree solves this issue by tracking a company’s impact in real time. Now, companies can instantly see which issues employees and customers are most passionate about, and quantify the impact of their CSR programs.

CSR is the future of marketing, but it is not as simple as buying ad space. CSR naturally builds interest and loyalty, but many companies find it difficult to properly harness the power of public good will. Impactree helps bridge this gap with a platform built to optimize networking. Employees and customers want to take action on the issues they care about, and will encourage their friends to do the same, thus driving engagement to your company’s action hub. When used in conjunction with social media campaigns and challenges that reward sustained action, our clients have seen amazing results.

We give companies a direct means of measuring and gauging outreach, and numerous customizable options. We are built for the future by providing a service which works in tandem with social media and viral marketing. And most of all, we believe companies play a pivotal role in encouraging action and improving the world for everyone. CSR and the ideas surrounding it are quickly becoming the norm, and Impactree offers a means of honestly and efficiently adapting to these changing times.

Next time, we will focus on the bottom line of CSR. Not only the costs that go into it, but how SCSR drives profit in the long run. In the modern age, Purpose = Profit.

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