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3 Tips to Build a CSR Program Your Employees Will Care About

July 20, 2022 Leadership
Admas Kanyagia
By Admas Kanyagia

Name any large, well-known brand or company and odds are you can find some form of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or Corporate Social Impact (CSI) program on the company website. These programs have exploded in popularity over the past decade and have become even more visible during the pandemic years. Research shows that 90% of the S&P 500 published some sort of CSR report in 2019, up dramatically from just 20% in 2011. 

The proliferation of these programs can be tied to a number of trends, including the public demand for more corporate sustainability and transparency, as well as the reemergence of business philosophies such as stakeholder capitalism. However, it’s worth analyzing what exactly makes a CSR/CSI program effective, and why employees should care about them. 

A well-rounded and impactful CSR program requires a deeper tie to a company’s business, products, customers and employees to be successful. Companies can implement a truly meaningful CSR program by considering three core principles:  

1. Inspire Your Employees to Lend Their Skills and Expertise 

Fifty-six percent of employees told Gartner the pandemic “made them want to contribute more to society.” In the time of the “Great Resignation” and frequent exit interviews, this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to business leaders. Employees are interested in giving back in authentic, impactful ways, and it’s up to companies and CSR leaders to help mobilize this. 

Skills-based volunteering, particularly for technology companies, is one of the most powerful ways to give back. Nonprofit organizations and social sector partners more often than not are highly in need of technical experts that will help them deploy and integrate new technologies into their operations. At a previous tech company that I worked for, GitHub, we launched a formal skills-based volunteering program and found that aligning our social sector partners to the skills and interests of our employees and our company’s overall goals was critical to the success of the program.

Your employees already aligned with your company’s mission when they joined. It’s important to continue that throughline with any social sector opportunities that you put in front of them. 

Related Article: Is it Time to Evaluate Your Environmental, Social and Governance Policy?

2. Tap Into What Your Company Knows Best: Your Product and Services

On a day-to-day basis, most companies remain laser-focused on improving their core operations and building the best products and services for their customers — and rightfully so. However, CSR programs contain a massive blind spot if leaders don’t also leverage their core products and business capabilities to support nonprofits and social sector organizations. 

At my current company, DigitalOcean, we’ve established this type of donation pipeline through an initiative, Hollie's Hub for Good, that provides cloud infrastructure credits to nonprofits and other organizations. These organizations use the credits to create better websites and portals for their beneficiaries, run educational programs virtually, or build better databases to manage donors and reduce administrative bulk (among other examples). By enabling these organizations to use our technology, our employees and teams gain valuable customer insights into how our products are driving stronger outcomes for all our customers, and how our product is driving value in our larger society. 

Other companies have set up similar programs to better align their value propositions with social impact initiatives in specific, and related, sectors. Telecom giant Verizon, for example, was recognized by Fast Company last year for its efforts to “bridge the homework gap” by providing under-resourced schools with the devices and wireless connectivity needed for virtual learning.

When companies deploy their products for relevant social good projects, they kickstart a virtuous cycle of impact for both community and business. 

Related Article: How to Take Your Diversity Strategy From Intention to Impact

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Engage With Sustainability 

Sustainability has moved front and center as a “must-have” for some companies as pressures mount from customers, investors and employees. They are increasingly and urgently asking for transparency and commitments on a company’s impact on the environment. 

Integrating sustainability into the core of your business begins by taking accurate stock of what your company’s current footprint looks like — and identifying where you can improve. At DigitalOcean, we’re just starting to understand our carbon footprint and conducting the necessary assessments to establish an effective sustainability strategy. We’re exploring ideas of how to integrate sustainability into our products and services, as well as our operations as a remote and distributed company. Your company’s CSR program should not only be about helping other organizations scale their impact, but also about identifying your own impact (both good and bad) and opportunities for improvement — this becomes most apparent in tackling sustainability targets and commitments. 

Stripe, for example, has launched one of the most comprehensive corporate carbon-removal programs to date, which includes money directed toward carbon-removal credit purchases and the creation of tools such as Stripe Climate, which allows businesses on Stripe to easily direct a fraction of their revenue towards carbon removal efforts. This type of approach — one that combines different elements such as philanthropy, industry alliances and new product integrations/features — is more characteristic of today’s social impact programs than the CSR programs of the past decade. 

There’s no easy guidebook to CSR programs in today’s interconnected world, but one thing is clear: companies can have a much larger role in improving their societies and communities beyond simply writing a paycheck. They can build meaningful pathways for giving back. It's time for the traditional CSR model of charitable giving to make way for more creative and innovative approaches, particularly those that are top of mind for your employees.

About the Author

Admas Kanyagia is the VP, Social Impact at Digital Ocean, where she is launching philanthropy, tech for good, sustainability and ESG programs. She was previously the Head of Social Impact at GitHub, where she coordinated the company’s philanthropy, employee giving and product donations to nonprofits, activated the time and expertise of employees, as well as leveraged GitHub’s technology and open-source ecosystem for the social sector.

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