Building CSR into the Culture of Your Company Pays Dividends

Written by Burt Cummings, President and CEO at Versaic. Originally published at Versaic Blog

Quicken Loans Community Relations

Seventy nine percent of today’s graduates consider a company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) commitments when deciding where to work, according to a recent Cone Communications study.

Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic for HRTW
Burt Cummings, President and CEO at Versaic

Once they arrive on the job, they want to be involved in doing good from the start. The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP) 2016 Giving in Numbers study states, “Employee volunteer participation rate with their company’s community efforts continued to rise to 33% in 2015 from 28% in 2013.”

Businesses know that investing in good is crucial to attract and retain top talent, and most business leaders expect this trend to increase. Brands of all shapes and sizes are embedding CSR into their operations, aligning business with purpose.

Mark Shamley, CEO of the Association of Corporate Contributions Professionals (ACCP), highlighted the growing role of CSR as an integral part of business: “I expect that CSR will become even more entrenched throughout companies. Rather than having CSR sit off to the side, more and more companies are weaving CSR into their operations.”

There’s a difference between paying lip service to corporate citizenship and really walking the walk — and employees catch on quickly when efforts aren’t authentic or geared to their needs. How can you embed CSR in ways that are empowering and personalized to your employees? Here are some examples we found working with Corporate Philanthropy programs of all shapes and sizes:

Volunteer on the Clock

If you give employees the opportunity to volunteer during work hours, you show that you respect their time and are willing to invest in doing good in the communities your company serves.

Quicken Loans gives all of their team members eight hours of paid volunteer time each year which they can use to explore non-profits in their cities and find ways to make a difference in the community. This commitment to CSR pays dividends for Quicken, where over half of the lender’s employees are millennials. Fortune named Quicken on its list of 100 best places to work for Millennials and 98 percent of young employees say “I feel good about the ways we contribute to the community.”

Pick Your Cause

People want the ability to make a difference in the causes closest to their hearts. Having a single company wide cause does not meet the needs and preferences of all employees. Giving employees the opportunity to choose makes all the difference.

JetBlue decided to honor their crew members’ commitment to giving back by launching Community Connection – a crew member volunteer program designed to align corporate giving with individual crew member passions. To date, JetBlue crew members have volunteered over 400,000 hours of service, resulting in more than $1.5 million of in-kind donations impacting their local communities.

Consider Your Skill-Set

Nielsen’s Wendy Salomon, VP, Reputation & Public Affairs sees an increase in companies moving from old-school philanthropy to “skillanthropy” or skills-based contributions. Examples include a consumer packaged goods company addressing access to healthy food, a bank educating vulnerable populations on financial literacy, or a shipping company getting supplies to storm-battled regions.

“There is a particular “stickiness” when skill-based programs are part of a CSR portfolio, as they allow the company to shine a light on the good it does in the world and the expertise it brings to the marketplace day in and day out,” said Salomon.

PositiveNRG, NRG Energy’s Philanthropy Program, shows the benefits of skills based philanthropy. In their work with FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology), a robotics and STEM education program. NRG employees use their real-world expertise to mentor FIRST teams. This multi-faceted approach to giving-back brings everyone together as valuable contributors and allows NRG to make more significant advances for those they serve.

Get Feedback

If you’re not sure how your program stacks up, ask! Survey employees to get feedback on what they like and don’t like about the way your programs are run now. Find out what you can do to get them more engaged. Be prepared to adapt as you go because even with the best plan in place your programs will continually evolve, just as the needs of your business and community change. When you really meet the needs of your employees and the community at large, you’ll reap significant benefits.

Versaic’s program management system is behind many of the best-known corporate philanthropy programs from some of the biggest brands around. You can schedule a free demo here.

Source: Building CSR into the Culture of Your Company Pays Dividends

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Linking Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Reputation

social-responsibility-to-corporate-reputation

An Interview with Nielsen’s Wendy Salomon, VP, Reputation & Public Affairs

wendy-salomonToday, we welcome Wendy Salomon, a vice president in Nielsen’s Reputation Management practice, to join us for our Q&A blog series. In her position, Wendy leads research engagements that deliver business insights to her diverse set of clients. She is entrusted with some of the firm’s most valuable client relationships.

Wendy has more than twenty years of experience with research and research-based consulting. She has helped her clients set strategy, refine business and reputation management plans, and optimize agency relationships based on research insights. Her work focuses on reputation management, brand strategy, and strategic communication engagements. She has earned particular regard for her ability to consult in challenging B2B environments around the world.

Wendy recognizes the value of both qualitative and quantitative inputs and has intelligibly brought to bear advanced analytics for many of her clients. She is a highly regarded partner and is often called to interact at the c-suite level within her client organizations. She is a published thought leader on reputation management and a sought-after presenter.

The interview is hosted by Jennifer Spencer, Content Marketing Manager at Versaic.

Versaic: Why should companies invest in CSR?

Wendy: It’s funny; that’s something you used to hear asked a lot, and now investing in CSR is not often something that is called into question.

The most successful companies have led the way in understanding that corporate reputation is a business asset that requires proactive understanding and management—the same as any other asset like their supply chain, brand portfolio, workforce, etc. How a company is seen as engaging with the world—whether it is viewed as socially responsible by key stakeholders—is often at the heart of reputational equity and risk.

Simply put, the world and the marketplace have moved beyond evaluating companies based solely on the quality of what they make or the service they provide. Equally important to protecting and growing reputation are the relationships a company has with the environment, communities, its employees, etc.

Versaic: What brand and marketing value can CSR and sustainability initiatives bring?

Wendy: We know that a strong corporate reputation clears the way for positive product brand stories to be heard. A company might have a compelling brand story to tell, perhaps even a pitch-perfect value proposition. However, if there are reputational frictions in the conversation about the company—for instance, if some call into question whether the company behaves in responsible ways—that brand message will have a really hard time cutting through the noise.

CSR activities protect and grow corporate reputation, which creates a supportive backdrop for brand strategies to be brought to life. CSR activities also help the company continue to engage with communities and stakeholders that can provide valuable feedback for their products and services, strengthening their business. Investment in initiatives that bolster reputation unlock business value and shared value.

Versaic: What are the unexpected benefits or outcomes that you have seen for companies that have implemented CSR programs successfully? 

Wendy: Beyond the good these programs do in the world, one of my favorite outcomes of these types of programs is the positive impact they have on employees. This is true on two fronts.

First, for employees themselves, these activities are often a critical piece of how they connect with the company. It makes them fulfilled, gives them a chance to serve with colleagues in a new way and build their skills, and plays an important role as they go out in the world and serve as brand ambassadors in their daily lives.

Second, we know that future talent around the world feel it is a priority that the company they work for is socially responsible, and this is particularly true of those early in their careers. Even when compared to things such as career advancement, elements of corporate character are a compelling part of a company’s reputation that can influence whether someone wants to work for you or not. The importance of this can’t be overstated. There are many who seek to work in a sexy technology environment but somewhat fewer who aspire to many of the stalwart “traditional” industries that desperately need creative talent to remain innovate. CSR activities can help pave the way to attracting and retaining high-potential hires.

Versaic: What are the three most important ways companies measure the success, and how does that lead to value in the business?

Wendy: From what we see, the landscape of CSR measurement is evolving and is a big opportunity for CSR managers. When measurement is lacking, the programs default to being a line-item expense versus something that drives business value for the corporation. By measuring success, the case can be made that CSR activities protect reputation and shape the business landscape in a supportive way. I’d recommend focusing assessments in three broad areas.

First is actual performance. Are the efforts themselves bringing about the desired positive change? CSR programs take many forms, but they all generally seek to make the world a better place. Perhaps your CSR initiatives set out to feed, educate, or create healthier lifestyles using products that are manufactured with fewer negative environment impacts, or they provide access to cleaner water and the chance for kids to play in cleaner parks, etc. Companies must measure and evaluate their positive impacts, alongside their community and nonprofit partners, so they can share this information both internally and externally. It’s good to do good.

Next is “campaign”-level understanding. This primarily applies to initiatives that are fairly well resourced and time bound, etc. Were stakeholders aware of the effort, how did they come to know about them, and did it contribute to the desired understanding of the company/issue? Over time, insights like this serve to inform future efforts to hone CSR practices.

Last is the overall impact that social responsibility efforts have on corporate reputation and risk mitigation, including the impact on the company’s license-to-operate and overall business environment. This is the business case for CSR that is critical for companies to operationalize—the extent to which being a socially responsible company builds reputational equity and mitigates reputational risk.

Versaic: How can companies truly differentiate themselves in how they communicate their CSR initiatives and results?

Wendy: One of the main things that should be kept in mind when it comes to communicating about CSR initiatives is the basic tenet that companies will need to tell more than just one story. Particularly for CSR, how diverse stakeholders view the information will vary dramatically based on their specific priorities. So, a CSR communication strategy for consumers, for example, is quite different from the strategy for policy influencers, NGOs, or investors. There is a real danger in being tone deaf. Thus, accounting for the different lenses through which stakeholders see your CSR activities is important and has real implications for communicators.

Another thing I’d share about how to differentiate is the expanded value that’s possible when companies engage in activities that link to their own core competencies—moving from old-school philanthropy to “skillanthropy” or skills-based contributions. This could be a CPG company addressing access to healthy food, a bank educating vulnerable populations on financial literacy, a shipping company getting supplies to storm-battled regions, etc. There is a particular “stickiness” when programs such as this are part of a CSR portfolio, as they allow them to shine a light on the good the company does in the world and also the expertise it brings to the marketplace day in and day out.

Versaic: What tips can you share with companies who would like to increase the impact of their CSR programs?

Wendy: You’d be surprised at how many companies don’t communicate the steps they take to be socially and environmentally responsible at all. There is worry that it will be seen as opportunistic versus sincere, or boastful versus humble. The truth is that people are making an effort to learn proactively about the way a company engages with the world before they decide to support it—whether that support be in the form of buying the company’s product, working for the company, or welcoming the company’s expansion in their local community. We know that many don’t like what they find and opt to engage elsewhere.

So, the main tip I would share is to tell your authentic corporate-responsibility story. It’s up to companies themselves to make sure this information is available when consumers go looking; without it, opinions can be shaped by broad industry perceptions, critics, and misinformation. A misperception of many reputation managers is that a lack of a bad story is the same as a good story, under the false hope that the lack of high-profile irresponsible behavior provides the proof necessary that the company is engaging in responsible behavior. For companies who have prioritized social responsibility, it should be a component of their enterprise-messaging strategy.

Versaic: Where do you see CSR going? What is going to be important three years from now?

Wendy: I would say there are two things to watch.

First, we have seen the evolution over the past decade from a definition of social responsibility that was dominated by environmental issues toward a broader view of corporate citizenship. Looking ahead, I think this “bigger tent” definition of what it means to be a responsible company will continue to expand. So, we’re likely to hear more about economic impacts, transparency, employee well-being, etc., as proof points for being a responsible company.

Second, it’s a hobby of mine to take note of how companies work CSR activities into their actual organizational structures. Is there a “sustainability” team or “global citizenship” department? Is it primarily a marketing function charged with creating a glossy sustainability report? Are responsible business imperatives decentralized and woven in across the company, giving it a voice in R&D, community outreach, and hiring practices? It’s all across the board right now. As the definition of corporate responsibility becomes broader—the bigger tent I mentioned—presumably, providing a framework for responsible behavior will need to become more systemic. I’m not sure yet what shape it will take, but I think we’ll see fewer occasions where companies opt to relegate CSR to a silo and fewer instances where it is an appendage on the org chart that is separate from where the “real work” happens. We’ll see more and deeper integration.

Try a demo today.


Source: Linking Corporate Social Responsibility to Corporate Reputation: Nielsen’s Wendy Salomon, VP, Reputation & Public Affairs

How Starwood Measures Social Impact

holding-the-earth

An Interview with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director of Community Partnerships

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Kristin Meyer, Associate Director, Community Partnerships

Since 2009, Global Citizenship has been a cornerstone of Starwood’s business strategy. Global Citizenship provides Starwood’s guests, customers, communities, owners, and associates a better way to experience the world. A key component of influencing lasting, sustainable improvements in communities around the globe is accomplished through collaborative partnerships with the Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Foundation, Inc. (“Starwood Foundation”) and international charitable organizations. The Starwood Foundation is dedicated to enriching communities by supplying financial grants to select partner organizations driving change in three key focus areas: Workplace Readiness, Human Rights, and Community Vitality (includes: Sustainable & Ecological Development and Disaster Relief).

When we first started a partnership, the Starwood Foundation team knew they needed to track, quantify and evaluate their social impact and put a system in place to manage the complexity. As a first step, the Starwood Foundation contracted with The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) who suggested a shift in mindset from ‘funder’ to ‘investor’ to achieve a portfolio approach. With that perspective, the Starwood Foundation created a strategic framework to clarify results for their signature program grants. With clarity on what results they were seeking, they could be more strategic in how they identify partners, educate those partners, align the application and selection process, create effective grantee reports, and implement performance assessments. The flexibility of the Versaic online solution made it possible to streamline the grantmaking process and aggregate results across programs.

One year ago, Versaic wrote about Starwood’s grants program in this ebook. We wanted to follow up with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director, Community Partnerships, to get an update on the Starwood Foundation’s grants programs and the impact they are having.

The interview is hosted by Jennifer Spencer, Content Marketing Manager at Versaic:

1. Thanks for joining us Kristin. Let’s start by talking about the Starwood Foundation’s workplace readiness program. The investments the Foundation has made in this focus area and the impact it has had on your hiring in those communities is such a great example of tying corporate philanthropy programs to business goals. Can you elaborate on your signature workplace readiness program and the results the Foundation has seen?

By adopting more of a results-based framework, we’ve been able to apply what we’ve learned from our partnerships with NGO’s around the world to better understand what needs to be done in the private sector to support the requirements of the community. In the area of workplace readiness specifically, we know from the results shared by our partners that training is not enough to move the needle in the workforce development space. Our partners were achieving phenomenal success equipping individuals and marginalized populations with the appropriate skill set as well as the social and emotional support to enter the job force. Yet many of our partners often commented on how time consuming and challenging the process was to establish employer partnerships and place their clients into local jobs. In addition, employment retention was quite challenging, not because the clients weren’t adequately prepared, but because employer expectations were sometimes not aligned.

We have taken some of the learnings from our investments on the CSR side and applied that to how we can do our part as a business within those communities. How do we better train and equip our hotels to ensure they are working with those same NGOs on the ground, and actually hiring from that talent pool? How do we make sure they really understand not only what an NGO does, but the populations that they serve, and how those populations may differ from our typical candidates? What are the practices they may need to alter internally in order make sure that those individuals are adequately supported starting from an initial interview, through onboarding, hiring and retention? That is really where our program has been successful. We learned from our philanthropic investments the impact we’re achieving and where there are gaps, and are applying that to our business model to ensure that as an organization, we are playing our part by hiring from the talent pool we are helping to create.

2. Regarding the other pillars that you’ve focused on, are you getting the same kind of results, learning, and impact in those areas that you’ve achieved in workplace readiness?

Sustainable & Ecological Development is another area where we’ve used a results-based framework to manage our charitable investments. Through this approach, we have been able to make investments in environmental organizations around the world. Similarly to Workplace Readiness, we are able to capture learnings from our NGO programs and apply that knowledge to our business operations. For example, one of the funding streams under Sustainable & Ecological Development is water risk, encompassing water access, quality, scarcity, security, stress and sanitation & hygiene. My colleague, Claire Cutting, works with our partner NGO’s within this focus area. Through these relationships, she is able to better understand the conditions that can lead to any one of these water issues as well as prevention and remediation actions. In one such case, the analysis from coastal and watershed restoration projects, funded by the Starwood Foundation’s results-based investments, has provided learnings that led to the creation of a water risk framework for our development team, ensuring that we, as a company, understand how to properly mitigate a community’s water risk as we build new properties. Applying knowledge from our Foundation investments to our business allows us to contribute positively to a community and ecosystem’s health. We also are able to share examples of successful business practices with our NGO partners so that they can share with other relevant stakeholders.

3. Can we talk a little bit about how you are collecting the data needed to analyze results and communicating impact?

We collect all of the data directly from our grant partners. We worked collaboratively with the Versaic team as well as our consultants at TRI to establish the results framework, which was specific to Starwood and the impact we were trying to drive. From there, we approached a small group of our grantees, showed them the results we were seeking, and asked them to help us understand what steps were involved for them to accomplish the desired results. That process helped us build out a more robust grant application that included the right indicators of success. We ask our grant partners to project their expected results during the application process and then we collect progress updates on a semi-annual basis, which makes it simple for them to submit and easy for us to discuss successes and challenges.

In addition, The Starwood Foundation team does a lot of training at the beginning of the relationship with a new NGO partner. If I were to call out one thing that we do as a best practice, it would be this initial training. Asking our new partners to attend a two-hour training on results-based impact is understandably a tall order, but many have since come back to us and said how worthwhile the training was for them. We want our partners to clearly understand the results-based framework, how to think about setting milestones, and what we mean when we talk about impact. Having our partners share their results is imperative for us to understand our larger impact as a Foundation. To understand the progress of our grant portfolio, we built scorecards that enable us to look at the results of each individual grant, as well as aggregate the results of our investments. As an example, for Workplace Readiness, we can look across our global portfolio to understand not only how many individuals have been served, but how many of them have achieved a certain education level or how many have retained employment for a certain period of time.

4. How has your impact reporting affected your brand and business?

For the Starwood Foundation, our results-focused approach has definitely elevated our exposure and reputation within the nonprofit field. The Starwood Foundation has become a respected partner within the charitable community. In addition, the work of the Starwood Foundation has enabled us to understand where there may be opportunity to have even more impact as a company. We’re able to more effectively evaluate and consider opportunities with both business and social returns. The Workplace Readiness program is a perfect example of this in action. As a result of the Starwood Foundation’s investments and the strategic framework, we were able to identify an opportunity on the corporate side in terms of how Starwood can more effectively drive social impact and tap into a new potential talent pipeline.

jennifer-spencer-versaic
Jennifer Spencer

Driving inbound interest means being everything from a publicist, researcher, and writer to thought leader.

 

 

Whether it's sponsorship, grants or donation, Versaic's best-in-class solutions are easily combined and customized to provide companies of any size a comprehensive solution for managing their CSR programs. Visit www.Versaic.com to learn more.

Source: How Starwood Measures Social Impact: An Interview with Kristin Meyer, Associate Director of Community Partnerships

Three Steps to Effectively Measure Philanthropic Impact

Written by Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic | Originally published at Versaic Blog

According to The Council on Foundations (COF) Report, Increasing Impact & Enhancing Value, corporate philanthropy is as vital as ever to business and society. And yet corporate leaders are under increasing pressure to connect the value of their programs with performance drivers that matter in the business. They must demonstrate that their philanthropic investment is both effective and aligned with business outcomes. Quantifying results is not always easy and many leaders struggle to measure the social impact of their programs. While they’ve often identified broad focus areas for their program, they can find it difficult to create clear social impact metrics that can bridge their philanthropic outcomes to their business strategy.

There are no universally accepted metrics for measuring either the social impact of philanthropy or the Return On Investment (ROI) of philanthropic initiatives. Each company is unique in both their social impact goals and in their requirements for how to demonstrate the ROI. It can be difficult to translate the large-scale vision of what they hope to achieve into tangible success measures.  They struggle to find effective ways to track changes in behavior or condition for the nonprofits and community members they serve.

Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic for HRTW
Burt Cummings, CEO at Versaic

Versaic client Starwood Hotels & Resorts is an example of an organization committed to investing the time and resources necessary to put a corporate philanthropy program in place that delivers significant value to the community as well as to the company and its employees. Starwood worked with Versaic and The Rensselaerville Institute (TRI) to develop a results-focused approach and implementation plan for their corporate philanthropy initiatives. Starwood’s primary objective was to employ new tools that would automate the process and improve their ability to track, quantify and evaluate impact. Their system is now live, and as a result, their philanthropy team has freed up time and gathered better data so they can have more productive interactions with grantees and effectively measure the results of their programs .

Here are some of the key things we learned about how to design and implement a successful program from our journey with Starwood and TRI: 

1) Create a strategic focus area(s): To identify focus areas that would address the most pertinent needs of the community while capitalizing on Starwood’s strengths, the Social Responsibility team looked internally for guidance. After multiple stakeholder interviews, focus groups and strategy sessions evaluating different aspects of the business, the team identified five focus areas that align community development objectives with Starwood’s strategic goals:

  • Workplace Readiness
  • Community Vitality
  • Conservation
  • Disaster Relief
  • Human Rights

2) Formulate a Plan: With the focus areas in place, Starwood developed a framework to plan and assess the effectiveness of their giving. TRI helped Starwood shift its mindset from acting as a ‘funder’ to acting as an ‘investor’ in order to seek the highest human gain for the available dollars. With that perspective, the foundation staff created a strategic results framework to clarify goals for their signature program grants.

Here are some basic questions to ask when establishing a result framework:

  • What changes do we want to see for the people or places we want to support?
  • What are the predictive changes in behavior or condition that indicate those people and places are on their way to success?
  • What types of programs and services will we invest in to get the end result?
  • What type of investments will we make to affect the change we seek? Will our portfolio include programmatic, capacity building and systemic change grants?

Below is an example from Starwood showing its results framework for its Workplace Readiness program.

StarwoodWorkplaceReadiness.png

3) Design an Effective System: For Starwood it was essential to make their team and systems as streamlined and efficient as possible. They knew they needed to automate the process, and wanted an automation partner who could integrate their results framework throughout the system workflow. They needed a system flexible enough to track the specific outcome data points they required.

Starwood’s application process and communication system process addresses the following needs:

  • Educate grantees on the company’s philanthropic objectives
  • Clearly communicate their criteria for support
  • Help potential partners understand how they can engage with the organization.
  • Collect all relevant information required to make funding decisions
  • Collect necessary data to assess ROI and support impact reporting

By taking the time up front to design the right questions, Starwood now collects all the necessary information from charitable partners, from initial proposal through impact data collected post-grant. As a result, the team can demonstrate how their investments in local non-profits focused on building employments skills have resulted in a much better pool of potential employees. This is a clear win for Starwood and for the communities where they do business.

Conclusion:

If you’re daunted by the prospect of putting an impact-focused program in place, start by asking yourself, your team and your stakeholders questions about what you want to accomplish in your business and community. Use those answers and the three steps outlined above to develop a process that will deliver the results you want to accomplish. Be prepared to adapt as you go because even with the best plan in place your programs will continually evolve, just as the needs of your business and community change. Connecting and reporting social impact with ROI requires refinement as you learn from experience.

When you take this approach, you’ll respond more effectively to the needs of your community partners, your stakeholders and your social investing team while at the same time increase your impact. It certainly worked for Starwood. Read the full story of Starwood’s journey, Going From Strategy to Impact to learn more. 


Source: Three Steps to Effectively Measure Philanthropic Impact