Does corporate social responsibility (CSR) mean different things to different organisations, or do organisations choose to interpret the meaning of CSR in different ways?  This was the question that came to the minds of the Conscious Communications team following a recent ‘CSR’ presentation that we attended in Cambridge.

A number of not-for-profit organisations and SMEs delivered talks at the event and there seemed to be an interesting mismatch in application of the name ‘CSR’ to different activities.

There are various definitions of CSR to draw on but one that the Conscious Communications team favours is ‘corporate self-regulation’ integrated into the business model.  This ‘self-regulation’ refers to ethical standards, and the furthering of social good, beyond the interest of the company itself and its required legal compliance.  CSR is not just about philanthropy, it’s about having a positive impact in and around all areas of business which includes, most topically, taking responsibility for your supply chain.  Marketing Week presented an overview of opinions from CSR leaders – which makes for an interesting read.

It is, of course, inevitable that organisations will engage in CSR activities at different levels, and some more actively than others.  But, what is less obvious maybe, is that organisations will still, in 2013, go about ‘dressing up’ their own promotional activities as CSR, by simply bolting on a charity element.  Giving to charity is always to be applauded and we are sure that the charities concerned are happy to benefit from these activities – we all know how difficult fundraising is today.  But to start with a business or marketing objective and work backwards to develop an event or stunt that fulfils an audience reach imperative, and then add a fundraising attraction to draw in maximum involvement, doesn’t speak to the true essence of social good.  Nor will this approach deliver the long-term business benefits associated with genuine CSR activity, embedded in the culture and strategy across a business.

These benefits are now tangible to the large companies, such as Unilever, which have really embraced their CSR journey.  They know that real CSR can have a positive impact on reputation, employee satisfaction and recruitment, operational efficiency, investor relations, customer loyalty, market positioning and profitability.  Forbes gives six reasons a company should embrace CSR which are echoed across many other sources.

There is no doubt that embedding a robust CSR strategy and culture within an organisation so that it underpins corporate decision making is not easy.  But, if large corporations such as Unilever can do it effectively then it must be possible, if not easier, for SMEs to also do it.  The change needs to come from the very top of the organisation and, therefore, it could be argued that the smaller the company, the easier the implementation of a CSR strategy should be.  So, we believe there’s no excuse for dressing up a customer event as CSR activity – the first step to achieving a genuine CSR strategy is openness and honesty at board level about the organisation’s motivations and objectives.  This is how the Conscious Communications business was conceived, with our ethics and CSR strategy firmly rooted at the very beginning, and now evolving and strengthening as our company grows. 

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