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How Corporate Social Responsibility Can Make or Break Your Business

Just like flossing your teeth, voting or giving your seat on mass transit up to a senior citizen, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is the right thing to do. Today it has also become a must-have for employees demanding socially conscious employers, and consumers who increasingly base their buying decisions on social good. And the price of not investing in CSR from the start can be steep – lower morale, higher turnover, decreased customer connection and diminished profits.

Don’t take my word on it. More than 11,000 Human Resources and business leaders participated in Deloitte’s 2018 Global Human Capital Trends report. Researchers noted, “Organizations are increasingly expected to exercise their ability to do social good, both externally for customers, communities and society, as well as internally for their employees. With more pressure on businesses to be good citizens and engineer solutions to critical social challenges, citizenship must be a core part of an organization’s identity and mission. In fact, 77 percent of survey respondents cited citizenship as important or very important.”

No wonder 90% of Fortune 500 companies have explicit Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives. Hearing about what some businesses do can give you a major case of the feels. Like grocery store chain Wegmans, who donated $26 million to hunger-relief programs last year while their internal scholarship program has benefited more than 36,000 employees over the past 35 years, or the Walt Disney Company, which donates more $400 million to non-profits annually and has empowered employees to donate more than three million hours of community service since 2012.

However, CSR is not just for big corporations. Companies of any size, including start-ups, need to make being of service a mandatory practice. Here’s why:

1. CSR is essential for recruiting and retaining top talent.

With U.S. unemployment rates at the lowest levels since the late 1960’s, finding and keeping great people is hard. Good corporate citizenship is important for engaging employees of all ages, particularly millennials. According to Horizon Media, 81% of millennials expect companies to publicly pledge to be good corporate citizens. Seventy-six percent of respondents to the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2017 regarded business as a force for positive social impact and want to get involved in causes enabled by employers. Yet when you look at the places where they work, only 18 percent of respondents say citizenship is a top priority in corporate strategy, 34 percent have few or poorly funded citizenship programs, and 22 percent are not focused on this at all.

2. Doing good improves employee engagement.

I’ve been a proponent of corporate social responsibility efforts since my first corporate job at Days Inns of America, educating the community about the benefits of hiring older workers. My career has included launching major CSR efforts and special events, but community outreach doesn’t have to be expensive. Companies of any size can bring employees together to volunteer at a local cause tied to your mission and values. For example, my organization supports hunger relief as one of our giving pillars. Activities like canned food drives and having employees volunteer at local food banks have been effective in promoting engagement in concert with our bigger efforts to donate tens of thousands of bottles of water to the Red Cross following natural disasters or help raise millions of dollars for Dunkin’s Joy in Childhood Foundation and the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

3. Customers support businesses that share their social commitment.

According to the 2017 Cone Communications CSR Study, 87% of respondents will purchase a product because a company advocated for an issue they cared about and 76% will refuse to purchase a company’s products or services upon learning it supported an issue contrary to their beliefs.  Delta Airlines certainly found that to be the case. In February 2018, following the Parkland High School shooting, CEO Ed Bastain announced the airline would no longer provide National Rifle Association members with discounted travel because it was contrary to their values. Despite blowback from NRA members and local lawmakers, Delta remained firm – gaining praise from a growing Millennial and Generation Z customer base that supports gun control.

4. Being of service can propel strong growth.

Starting a business with CSR and values tied deeply to your mission can bolster your bottom line. Like innovative footwear company TOMS, who launched its “one for one” program to donate a pair of shoes to kids in need for every pair of their shoes sold early on.  More than 60 million pairs being given away worldwide, and they have grown into a $400 million business. Doing this for the long-run makes all the difference. In 2017, the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenshipreported that companies investing in social responsibility programs for at least four years were more successful with their business objectives than those with a short-term commitment.

How has corporate social responsibility influenced where you work, or what businesses you support?

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