Supporting A Higher Cause: Religion & CSR

We rarely talk religion on the Prove Your Purpose blog, but the election of Pope Francis, and his focus on poverty and the environment, got us thinking: in a world where 84 percent of the world's population is affiliated with a religion, how does faith impact attitudes and actions in the realm of CSR? Our very own Jillian Wilson Martin shares her findings on the separation (or lack thereof) of church and cause:

Faith is a powerful motivator. It can swing elections, spark protests and start wars. But it can also fuel a tremendous amount of good. People who are affiliated with a religion are more aware of global issues, more generous with their time and money, and more likely to take action on issues they care about.

For many, this starts with what they hear at their place of worship. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that the majority of regular churchgoers (88%) learn about hunger and poverty needs from their clergy, and nearly half (47%) say their leaders speak out on the environment – almost always to encourage environmental protection. Pope Francis began last weekend's inauguration mass by urging followers to,"…be protectors of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment." Following the tenets of his patron saint, Francis of Assisi, the Jesuit appears committed to pushing an agenda of service and sustainability in the Catholic Church.

Followers of all religions are among the most generous, both with their dollars and their time. According to a special Faith & Philanthropy report from the Independent Sector, "of givers to religious congregations, over 85 percent also support secular organizations, providing three-quarters of the philanthropic support those other organizations receive." And "54 percent of those who regularly attend religious services volunteer."

But decisions about money don't end with charitable donations; faith-based organizations are also using their dollars to influence business operations. This spring, shareholders at a variety of major companies, such as Dow ChemicalExxon MobilHome Depot, Kroger and Verizon, will respond to resolutions filed by faith-based institutions. Faith-based institutions are often credited with founding the shareholder advocacy movement, and were the most enthusiastic filers for decades. Described by the New York Times as "nuns who won't stop nudging," these groups have more than $31B in assets and have led the charge on executive pay, workplace violence and ethical labor practices. In 2013, As You Sow, a nonprofit organization that promotes CSR through shareholder advocacy and legal strategies, attributes the faith community with filing 18 percent of upcoming resolutions, which focus primarily on climate change, nutrition and health care.

Religious leaders have also led notable boycotts and grassroots campaigns on the important issues of our time. We can all think back to Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and other ministers who stood up for civil rights, but did you know the Jewish community, particularly Rabbi Stephen Wise, is often credited with spearheading Progressive Era battles against slums and sweatshops? Today the United Church of Christ is currently taking direct aim at fracking, and religious groups on both sides have called for boycotts over issues in Israel. Religion and business are closely linked, and faith-based groups often have the moral authority to rally folks into action across the consumer landscape.

The world's believers are constituents not to be ignored. Fighting with a nun in a habit never looks good, and, on the flip side, it rarely hurts to have a well-respected, moral leader on your side. Faith may not be part of your target audience's description, but it should be on your list when thinking about influencers and evaluating business practices.

Are you engaging the religious community in your company's CSR efforts? Tell us how on Twitter using hashtag #ConeCSR.


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