Prove Your Purpose

When it comes to CSR, purpose begins the journey – but return is the destination. Prove Your Purpose is your source for need-to-know CSR news and insights, driving strategy beyond purpose to deliver tangible results.

Proving It: Delivering Results that Matter

by Craig Bida

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.




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Shawn Berriman

Great article. As a fundraiser in American Forests’ Corporate Development department, I’ve found this post to be a reasonably accurate description of the cause programs we set up with some of America’s leading brands with one key difference… most of the people we talk to at companies are not from the CSR department.

We find that the bulk of business support comes from marketing and/or advertising departments that have promotional budgets to spend. Companies may want to make a difference, but only in-so-much as they can show how this moves their sale’s needle.

One of our most popular programs we have is our Global ReLeaf forest restoration initiative through which we plant one tree for every $1 donated. It’s a proven program that provides measurable results in terms of carbon dioxide sequestered, oxygen produced, cities cooled, air cleaned, homes built for animals and drinking water provided for humans.

Despite the significant environmental impacts provided through American Forests’ Global ReLeaf program, the low cost per tree and the consumer facing cause message are what sell this program to corporations.

Personally, I’d love to see more companies contribute to our work because they get how important our shared environment is. Unfortunately, right now this is not the reality that we experience.

Loved the article though and I’ll keep my eyes peeled to see if some of the partnerships we put together over the next few years start to change to more philanthropic relationships as opposed to cause promotions that help increase sales.


I definitely agree that there should be more doing than talking. It is true, especially in these modern times when companies conjure all these alluring initiatives and have ill perceived "well thought out plans", however no actions are being done, no donating is taking place and therefore no results are produced.

I also feel that when giving takes place either from companies and especially from individual philanthropist, to a certain extent, it is egotistical. According to Shawn, "Companies may want to make a difference, but only in-so-much as they can show how this moves their sale's needle".

I remember one athlete, Usain Bolt, after he ran in the 2008 Olympics, may sports critiques criticized saying that he won the Olympic race, however he did not give his best effort. At the end of the race he started slowing down when he realized that he had won and he pridefully beat his chest at the conclusion. Usain Bolt turned around and donated millions to the red cross and it seemed to silence all critiques. Now my question is if this giving is truly genuine.

At the end of the day, cause promotion is important for the well being of society. And companies and philanthropist need to stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. Only by doing this can one can receive tangible results. Its sad that sometimes when donations place place it is not of a genuine nature, however at least it is being done.

Kristhian Lopez

I really agree with this article. In my opinion, I think that people in our present cares a lot about CSR. However, The bar for strategic CSR is now higher than ever. Costumers are unable to pay more for a product just because it makes them feel good inside. In other words, they have think about their wallets and what is right for the environment and the society as well. Every company must have a cause because its all about the social change, being a good company, and getting all of us involved for a good cause.

Katherine Acevedo

Hello, I am a student from FIU and I am taking a Corporate Social Responsibility class and I am excited to write on this article about exactly that! From what I have always been taught in my household, helping others always brings positive results. I do agree with improving all types of lifestyles through corporate responsibility, it increases awareness and motivates consumers to buy more of the product. I can be evident of that because I am one of those consumers that will much rather purchase a product that will help a child or a local community. It gives you a sense of human connection with others in the world, we all live on this planet, we might as well take of it and each other. Big corporations are capable of providing this global help with the tons of resources and connections, it is the least they can do. We, the people created such success in the company, we can also take it away, but we can also improve it by supporting causes.

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