Five ways to ensure ROI from CSR programs

Most employers' corporate social responsibility programs achieve some positive results, but few are reaching their full potential, according to CSR expert Jonathan Champ.

Champ, the former change and communication lead at Benojo – a company that connects employers with charities and manages corporate volunteering – says different organisations struggle with different aspects of CSR.

"Everybody's good at something, and everybody's poor at something," he told HR Daily.

Some organisations are doing "great stuff" but never stop to tell anybody about it, or don't think to work it into their employment branding. Others don't streamline their efforts, or narrow their focus too much, and many still struggle with measuring, monitoring and evaluation.

"Often the grassroots stuff is really strong... you've got staff who are doing stuff every day with their local community in one way or another, but the activity hasn't been captured and rolled up and thought about in a holistic strategic way," he says.

According to Champ, employers can take five steps to ensure their CSR program is effective on every level.

1. Ask yourself

The first step is to audit or benchmark the organisation's current efforts, and this should consider any activity the organisation is involved in at present.

If a whole new program is on the cards, it might be worth running a survey or forming a consultative committee to see what staff are already doing or would be interested in, and to identify potential "champions".

2. Make it matter

The next questions to ask are, "are you doing the right things?" and "is there a strong match between the business goals and the community goals?" Champ says.

"Making it matter is all about defining the impact you want to have, and making sure that your efforts are focused around those right things... so there's some sort of link between leadership, vision and strategy."

Depending on its vision, an employer in the tech industry might decide to offer homeless people the opportunity to learn how to code – or give kids in underprivileged or isolated areas access to technology.

There's also the option of asking staff to "down tools" one day a year and volunteer at a range of community organisations, Champ says. This ensures employees all have a say in what they're doing, which aids engagement, but the impact is divided, so it might be less appealing from a branding perspective, he notes.

3. Set your path

"If you want to actually achieve those social goals then it's necessary to take some form of planned approach," Champ says. "Do you have the processes, structures, goals and responsibilities in place within your organisation to effectively deliver on that kind of vision?"

Whether responsibility lies with the CEO or HR, marketing, branding or a combination of departments will depend on the organisation, but it must be clear. Some employers appoint "community champions" in each office to ensure regular two-way contact between the business and the charity, promote the activities they're involved in, and process feedback. Others stick to simple gold-coin morning teas, or invite employees to sacrifice a portion of their salary each week.

"What can be done to deepen and extend that contribution, and how do you 'bake' that into the organisation?" Champ urges employers to consider. "What are the things that need to be in place to make that sustainable?"

4. Launch and lift

"Every organisation is doing something," Champ says, even if it's "incredibly informal" or an individual's "pet project".

If the existing program isn't aligned with both the company's goals and employee interests, it might need to change.

Questions to ask include: "Is there a variety?" and "Is it easy for people to get involved?"

"Some people may only want to do gold coin donations – they may not want to ever really roll up their sleeves and get involved with volunteering – but they still want to contribute in a range of ways," Champ says.

"Launch and lift is all about: how many different ways are there to participate, in ways that are aligned with the organisation's goals?

"What are the opportunities to involve customers, to involve family and friends, to extend that community engagement to the community and turn that into a truly engaging activity that's brand-building as well?"

5. Grow and tell

"If you've been able to be clear about your strategy and establish measurement all the way through those other phases, then you're going to be able to demonstrate the impact of what you're doing," Champ says.

"You're able to say... we had 1,000 hours of staff volunteering this month," and to describe the impact, such as serving 200 meals, or building a website.

There might also be benefits around engagement, skills development, attraction and retention. In a 2014 Deloitte volunteering survey, 90 per cent of HR executives agreed that contributing business skills and expertise to a non-profit can develop leadership skills, while an earlier survey of 750 white-collar workers found 64 per cent had increased their skills through volunteer work, Champ says.

Benchmarking is also important. There are various options, so the trick is to be consistent. "There's a collective impact model, there's a social value-chain model, there's a whole bunch of different models that get used globally... choose one that works for your business," he says.

The other element is storytelling, he adds.

"Everybody's got some stakeholder requirement around numbers... but what about the stories attached to that? How can achievements be used to create brand capital and enhance or reinforce the employee value proposition?"

Studies show that Millennials will choose a company with purpose, or where they have an opportunity to exercise purpose, over a company that doesn't offer these things, Champ says, and a 2011 PwC survey found 56 per cent of graduates would leave if their employer didn't have a CSR program.

The ability to say to prospective employees, "here's what we're involved in, here's our community presence, and this is the kind of thing you can be part of" can be "a very powerful drawcard for the right kind of employees – and the right kind of differentiator when it comes to employment brand", Champ says.

Employers can take stock of their current program, and find out how they can improve their social impact, by taking the Benojo index here.

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