What is Corporate Social Responsibility and Why it Matters for Your Brand Strategy

By: Mae Young, Communications Account Director

Corporate Social Responsibility, also known as CSR, has been an important part of doing business since most of us can remember. We’ve all been asked to enroll in a workplace campaign and donate a small portion of our paychecks, participate in a workplace volunteer day, or round up at a checkout counter. For many, volunteering or giving back goes all the way back to our time in school. If you ever participated in Jump Rope for Heart, you do not forget the jump ropes hitting the asphalt over and over until your legs finally give out – or was that just me? As employees, CSR has become an accepted and regular part of our work lives, but many of us haven’t stopped to wonder the why behind CSR. In this short blog post, we’ll explain it to you. Read on. 

What is CSR?

Corporate Social Responsibility is defined as a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. You typically see CSR programs in larger organizations since they have the means and resources to give back to their communities, but smaller and mid-sized organizations can also have CSR programs that are just as impactful. A CSR program does not have to look like a donation or a volunteer opportunity. It can also be an organization’s way to make sure they are contributing positively to society or the environment. CSR programs can focus on a variety of areas or categories, some of the most common include environmental impacts, ethical responsibility, philanthropic endeavors, and financial responsibilities. CSR calls on organizations or companies to hold themselves publicly accountable with metrics to underscore it. 

Your Brand Values and Principles Matter – especially today. 

PR and CSR must work together closely, but not in the traditional sense of public relations designed to attract positive attention to support a business’ bottomline and prosperity. CSR needs PR to ensure the programming is effectively communicating to the public the “why” behind the program, thus reinforcing the values of the organization. But why? Why is this important for a business? It’s simple: your consumers care that you care, too.

First, let’s start with the numbers. According to a 2019 Aflac Survey, 77% of consumers are committed to buying from brands that are also committed to making the world a better place. Another study by CONE found that 91% of consumers worldwide expect organizations and companies to make a positive impact on the world, in addition to making their own profits; 84% of consumers say they intentionally seek out responsible products; 90% of consumers will boycott a company if the company has irresponsible or deceptive business practices. These statistics alone speak for themselves, but – there is more. The same CONE Communications study found that “More than 9-in-10 since millennials would switch brands to one associated with a cause (91% vs. 85% U.S. average), and two-thirds use social media to engage around CSR (66% vs. 53% U.S. average).” 

The “good” that comes out of a CSR program is two-fold. Your company or organization is positively impacting their cause, but CSR also positively impacts consumer trust in your business. Your brand trustworthiness can be supported by effectively communicating your organization’s ethics and beliefs through an effective CSR PR strategy. However, it is critical that your CSR’s PR strategy is done right because if your consumers or clients don’t believe your mission is authentic, you will inevitably lose their trust. When selecting a CSR initiative, the best way to be authentic is to actually believe in the cause – point blank. The PR work should follow the CSR initiative after it is already set in place. There needs to be factual evidence that your organization is doing the things they say they are. Millennials, and especially Gen Z, will be able to identify a disingenuous CSR initiative – so don’t do it. 

An aligned CSR and PR strategy will positively impact your brand’s reputation. Positive media coverage that stems from your organization’s philanthropic efforts only garners more positivity about your brand. According to an article by Sacred Heart University, some other benefits of a successful CSR campaign are: employee engagement, increased investments, and increased profits. A GreenPrint survey found that 64% of people will pay more for sustainable products. We can all attest to that fact if you have purchased Patagonia products, TOMS shoes, or Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. These brands care. 

If you would like to launch a CSR initiative at your organization or company but aren’t sure where to begin, OR if you have an existing CSR program but want to make sure your PR strategy is properly aligned, we can help!  At Anna Stallmann Communications, we will make sure your CSR initiative is in alignment with your PR strategy so that your customers, clients, and community know what you are doing to make the world a better place. Get in touch!

Edited on Feb. 19, 2024.

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