Corporate Responsibility: A 2017 Outlook

When it comes to the social sector, philanthropy, giving back, helping others, improving our communities and our planet—however it’s defined—we are seeing clear and positive trends. In 2015, charitable donations hit a record for a second year in a row at an estimated $373.25 billion, corporate giving reached $18.45 billion, an increase of 3.9 percent year-over-year (YoY), and employee participation in their companies’ community efforts has continued to rise, and last year reached 33 percent.

How will this story continue to unfold? Here are some predictions for 2017:

Profit + Purpose. We’re likely to see the acceleration of aligning corporate philosophies and sales goals to better meet the needs of underserved populations and to address major global issues, such as noncommunicable diseases, climate change, and poverty. Examples of this include CVS Health’s decision to discontinue tobacco sales, Subaru’s commitment to building fuel-efficient vehicles in eco-friendly plants, and Prudential’s focus on financially empowering underserved communities.

The Impact of Corporate Responsibility on the Bottom Line. Similarly, we’ll see greater investor interest in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors, which will cause the C-suite to further incorporate corporate giving and employee engagement as core components of a strong business strategy. Not only is this the right thing to do, but studies increasingly show a direct link between CR initiatives and greater profitability, higher investment value, and employee recruitment and retention.

The Expanding Role of HR. The 2016 Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study found that 51 percent of employees won’t work for a company that doesn’t have strong social and environmental commitments, and that 74 percent are more fulfilled when they are provided opportunities to make a positive impact at work. As such, CR initiatives will become increasingly integrated with HR efforts around employee recruitment, engagement and retention efforts. It’s critical that HR be able to communicate and present defined social programs and campaigns that both current and prospective employees can feel good about.

The Rise of Human Social Responsibility. Employees are increasingly looking for a greater diversity of options for giving back and supporting causes. Organizations need to listen to their employees more and take cues from them. It’s a shift in mindset from Corporate Social Responsibility to what corporate citizenship and philanthropy expert Rachel Hutchisson has coined as Human Social Responsibility, where organizations, as conveners of people, will take their lead from their employees and their individual human social contracts. This will result in more organizations looking for ways to support employees’ causes within the broader scope of their CR programs, incorporate giving and volunteering that employees do on their own time into these programs, and encouraging skills-based volunteering as a dual employee development and community investment tool.

Measurement, Storytelling and Breaking Silos. The importance of measurement will continue to grow in 2017. We will see continued demand for measuring and reporting the results of grants, community partnerships, and employee programs. Also, aligning results with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will gain more attention and will factor into storytelling, particularly with the growing importance of public-private partnerships in business. In the end, organizations must have the infrastructure in place to connect the dots on measurement, impact and storytelling across the entirety of their CR, Sustainability, PR, Marketing, HR, and IR efforts.

Technology. In order to facilitate more employee participation, build better partnerships and support increasingly robust reporting requirements, CR software will continue to grow in importance as a core enterprise technology need. To meet the demands of their stakeholders, corporations need a technology platform from which to organize their employee giving and volunteering, tie all of their disparate CR efforts together, measure and report on their efforts, and tell their impact stories. And just as the private sector has adopted cloud-based and mobile solutions to manage other aspects of the business, CR will continue to follow.

The notion of corporate responsibility has evolved beyond traditional “checkbook philanthropy”— where checks were written each year to disparate causes and organizations; employees likely didn’t participate in or even know about these donations; and no one ever knew what that money actually did. Today, CR is transforming to become results-based, impact-focused, and inclusive to engage employees in ways that are meaningful to them. Companies and employees want their efforts to have an impact, and they want to know what that impact is.

In the year ahead, we’ll see organizations diversify their CSR efforts to create stronger, more engaging programs. Measurement will be crucial to a company’s ability to share its impact story with the people and organizations they help, as well as their customers, employees, boards, investors and other stakeholders. And perhaps, these impact stories will even inspire greater participation in causes and campaigns that will help build a better world.

— Jamie Serino, director of marketing, MicroEdge + Blackbaud

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