Gather all the troops you can if you want a truly impactful CSR strategy
Since the Companies Act 2013 came into effect, it became mandatory for businesses to spend 2% of their net profits on corporate social responsibility, or CSR. According to the Prime Database, Indian businesses spent a good ₹8,345 crore on various CSR activities in 2015-16, against ₹6,526 crore the previous year. I will not be surprised if some businesses did it grudgingly, but it is a welcome sign in our times when the inequality ratio rises unhindered and capitalism is widely celebrated. Laws like this have the ability to keep things more just and provide the needy the privilege of higher education and other benefits.
But there are always two sides to a story. A few years ago, I had a conversation with an NGO leader who put his organization’s challenge with fundraising quite succinctly. “It is hard when all you have to sell is feel good.” he said.
Business is a game of economics and at the present condition of global economy, some might find it justified if profit-centric businesses shy away from social good or grudge when they are legally obliged to deliver it. So other than the said "feel good", businesses rarely have an altruistic agenda when it comes to CSR.
What can be sold to businesses other than the said “feel good” for them to truly accept their social responsibility?
One direct impact, which is most common in organizations, is employee engagement. It helps your employees find a little more meaning in their jobs than the monotony of deliverables and to-do lists. The ability to march your army towards the common goal of social good is a known employer-branding tool. That being said, employee engagement in CSR still does not ensure civic participation. If you want your CSR initiatives to make an impact, it is important that you take the charge to bring communities together, not only your employees or specially anointed CSR teams.
Customers are a great place to start – you already have an existing relationship with them. Being able to rally your tribe of customers towards common social goals is by far the strongest moral declaration you can make as a brand. It is a sign that you take CSR seriously and aim to make real impact, that it is not merely adherence to a government policy.
That being said, it is important to get your CSR strategy right before you propose your ideas to your customers. You don’t want to waste their time and your own. This is how you can get started:
Refine your idea to one that resonates
In general, NGOs as well as CSR have fairly broad focus areas – environment, women & children, nutrition, etc. For a previously un-engaged customer, caring about broad causes can be difficult. When planning a CSR strategy for my clients, I usually recommend picking up the broad topic and digging deep into the impact you want to see. For example, when you take women right's as a cause, do you want to work on adult women’s education, women’s employment, health and hygiene, safety or something else? When you dig deep, it becomes easier for your customer to understand your perspective and foresee how it aligns with their brand values.
Ask for ideas
The easiest way to get your customers’ attention to your CSR initiative is to engage them at the grassroots level. Organize collaborative brainstorming sessions and give them space to voice their ideas on execution. That way, they will lead the CSR charge together with you and will have a stake in the success of the initiative.
Finding a brand fit is crucial
Let’s face it – CSR is usually not a selfless activity. When proposing a CSR initiative to your customers, finding relevance and integration will be essential. As a B2B brand, it will be futile to engage your fast food customer in an initiative around nutrition. Even if they do agree, the outcome will be rather ironic and will find cynics and sceptics more easily. Think in terms of what your customers can provide that will truly help your cause. Women’s health and hygiene? Try a sanitary pad brand. Children’s nutrition? A cereal brand would make more sense and will be more willing to partner.
Don’t overcomplicate your customers’ participation
If you want to rally your customers’ for your CSR cause, make it simple for them to participate. From crowdfunding links to charity boxes at store and restaurant outlets and offices, there are many ways to achieve it.
Civic participation is a sign of an impactful CSR strategy. Instead of doing your bit and announcing it in a cheesy press release, get your customers to join the cause. Not only is it a sign of actually caring for the cause instead of checking CSR off the to-do list, it signals effective corporate citizenship. It is a win-win scenario for your brand, your employees, and your customers as well as for the larger community. That’s reason enough, isn’t it?