This week, Cone Communications EVP of Social Impact, Craig Bida, takes to Prove Your Purpose to talk about the new standard for CSR.
As CSR continues to expand and evolve — with corporations, nonprofits and government partnering in innovative ways to deliver positive societal impact — one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Results matter — now more than ever before.
As recent Cone Communications research shows, American consumers are now more than twice as likely to buy from companies that promote the results and progress of their CSR efforts. A full 40 percent of consumers state that they will not purchase a company's products or services if CSR results are not communicated.
This "prove it" mindset is becoming increasingly common now that CSR has become widespread. For perspective, more than 80 percent of today's Fortune 250 companies have a branded cause program as part of their broader CSR efforts. The expectation of a wide array of stakeholders, from business leaders, to investors, to the media, is that CSR needs to do more than just inspire; it must deliver real and substantive impact.
Signs of this increased focus on results are showing up everywhere. I recently spoke with a senior CSR leader at a multi-billion dollar, global company who lamented the lack of tangible impact from high-minded, but ineffective, corporate initiatives. "I don't need any more big strategies," she said. "I need something to happen." Seeing little actual social impact, low levels of employee participation, and insignificant positive improvement in corporate reputation, this CSR leader is now pressing for a major overhaul of where and how the company invests its philanthropic dollars.
Or take the example of a CEO at a large financial services company who realized that, after spending large sums of money over decades to attack a host of social problems, his company had very little to show for it, stating, "Many of the problems in our communities are worse now than when we started." After much soul-searching, this company has subsequently pruned its efforts to focus on improving the health and well-being of specific, priority populations.
Another dimension of this evolution towards impact is captured in a recent article from The Chronicle of Philanthropy titled, "Wealthy Young Donors Push Charities to Show Results." The next generation of philanthropists, wealthy donors in their twenties and thirties who are now taking over family foundations, is introducing a different set of expectations to giving. They are channeling grant making to pursue specific strategic objectives, focusing on delivering clearly defined and measurable impacts, and supporting specific causes (e.g., access to water or job creation) instead of specific nonprofits.
Finally, this mindset is also becoming more widespread at the everyday, household level. As a full-fledged, card-carrying soccer mom once told me, "I'm the CFO of my house. I spend my money on brands that help make the world a better place for my kids." To reach engaged, cause-savvy consumers like these, companies need to show substantive, relevant results and, increasingly, deliver impact at the local and community level.
No matter your vantage point, this drive towards substance is a positive evolution, bringing a long-overdue focus on outcomes over activities. If you are a CSR leader, make sure you seize this momentum. The time is now to set clearer objectives, make smarter investment choices and drive towards tangible results. C'mon, everybody's doing it.
We encourage your thoughts and comments. Continue the conversation on Twitter by using #ConeCSR.