Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is "in" right now – but it's not a trend so much as an important evolution of the business world. As employees and consumers alike demand more responsible citizenship from organizations, companies are learning why it matters to invest in CSR.
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"You can approach it from a few different angles," says Peter Dudley, senior vice president of community programs at Wells Fargo. "One is corporate reputation: Customers and the public are demanding more socially responsible behavior from corporations. Another is employee engagement: I know the people I work with want to work for a company that does the right thing, has integrity, and helps communities."
According to Dudley, companies have a unique ability to "mobilize people, funds, and the strengths of their brands" to make positive change in the world and help communities thrive. It stands to reason, then, that organizations make use of this ability.
Perfecting Corporate Citizenship and Engaging Employees at the Same Time
While the concept of corporate social responsibility has been around since at least the 1960s, many organizations are still in the process of learning how to become good corporate citizens. That's where events like the Charities@Work Annual Summit come in.
A yearly conference, the Charities@Work summit is run by a group of the same name, which is composed of four organizations: America's Charities, Community Health Charities, EarthShare, and Global Impact.
Dudley, who is co-chair of the Charities@Work corporate advisory council, describes the summit as "a gathering of practitioners of CSR, specifically focused on employee engagement." Some of the summit's major topics of conversation include employee volunteerism, giving, advocacy, and wellness
While Dudley notes that there is "no way to prove causality at this point," he says that research suggests strong correlations between CSR programs and employee engagement.
"Employees who give to our workplace campaigns return higher engagement scores; [it's the] same with employees who volunteer," Dudley explains. "Employees who do both score significantly higher on engagement."
Research has also found that the number of hours a person volunteers doesn't correlate with high engagement scores. Rather, it's the simple act of volunteering itself that boosts engagement.
"You get that engagement bump just by being involved, and it doesn't change whether you volunteer 100 hours or 10 hours," Dudley says.
Another interesting finding: When employees volunteer together through company-run programs, engagement scores related to teamwork and team relationships "are off the charts," according to Dudley.
Even if there's no definitive proof that CSR programs directly boost engagement levels, mounting evidence points in that direction.
You Can Always Find a Reason to Be a Skeptic – But Why?
Despite what the research suggests, some are still not on board with CSR. They see it as a frivolous activity that distracts from a business's No. 1 goal: maximizing profits.
"If you want to be cynical about it, you'll find reasons to think it's not that great," Dudley says. "But for me, that's not my experience."
Aside from the aforementioned research, Dudley also points to findings that younger workers – think millennials and Gen. Z-ers – hold CSR especially dear.
"The new crop of employees looks at CSR not just as something a company does to affect its brand or for PR, but as part of what the company is," Dudley says. "A lot of us are working from home now, but I think we also want to 'home from work," too, if you will. We want to bring our full selves to the office. It's not just a job anymore."
CSR is important precisely because it allows employees to bring their "full selves" to work. Without CSR programs, employees are likely to be less invested in an organization's mission and goals. That could potentially mean CSR is not a distraction from the bottom line, but actually a positive influence on it.
Dudley, a veteran of the CSR conference scene, finds Charities@Work to be especially unique.
"I've been to a lot of conferences, and the Charities@Work one seems a lot more intimate and focused on engagement," Dudley says. "Some of the others are more academic or broader in scope, but Charities@Work really feels like a substantial conference in the content and the people who attend."
So if your organization is working on a new CSR program – or just wants to improve the one it already has – Charities@Work might be a good place to start.