Corporate Social Responsibility as the New Association Engagement Model 

CSR programs are picking up in popularity; is it time to incorporate one into your organization’s strategy?

By Alison Powers, MBA

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For those starting a new job, joining a group of like-minded individuals is essential for getting off on the right foot.We’re all aware of the impact a group of members with similar interests, goals, and values can have. 

Why join a professional organization? 

For decades, the answer to that question was three-fold: 

  1. Meet others in your field – access to experts, industry events, opportunities to serve, and the ability to engage with other members. 
  2. Gain credentials or expertise through education – reduced rates to attend regional and statewide meetings and opportunities to complete programs for continuing education  (CEUs) credits. 
  3. Find your advocacy voice in governmental affairs – receive legislative updates, perspectives on state and national news, and industry trends from a trusted source. 

Today’s association professional seeks to fulfill a fourth need of their association affiliation:  the need to marry their personal and professional goals with social responsibility

What is corporate social responsibility and what does it look like? 

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business model organizations use to keep themselves accountable for their actions and the effects their actions may have on their community, the environment, and those around them.  It can encompass a wide variety of legal, economic, environmental, and ethical issues such as: 

  • Diversity and inclusion 
  • Employee turnover 
  • Unequal compensation rates 
  • Transparency in reporting 
  • Environmentally friendly practices 
  • Employee wellness 
  • Conflicts of interest 

Why add CSR to the association board’s already full plate?  

To help build a stronger and broader foundation for your association and specifically for your members by fostering the development of and engagement with philanthropic initiatives. For the American Academy of Pediatrics in Itasca, their leadership is walking the talk in CSR. Among the top 10 resolutions supported by the leadership at their Annual Leadership Conference is incorporating environmental, social, and governance principles in the academy’s investment strategy according to an AAP News release on August 7,2022. 

Getting started 

While this list is not exhaustive of the steps an association might take in building their CSR model, we hope it helps point you toward a useful path: 

Research what issues are personal for your members, and who is doing work in these areas. Who are potential partners? 

Read through your bylaws and get advice from legal counsel to ensure there are no conflicts of interest. 

Write down your goals in your mission and strategic plan. Use the SMART goal format to ensure you achieve what you set out to achieve. 

Ask members to get involved in shaping the initiatives, whether it is diversifying your association’s financial portfolio to include eco-friendly companies or donating socks to the homeless in the city hosting your annual meeting. 


Corporate social responsibility is more than just a fad. Associations that want to stay relevant and want to help people in need around the world while increasing their own value and efficacy will benefit from embracing CSR. 

Recommended reading: 

Time Business:  Why Companies Can No Longer Afford to Ignore Their Social Responsibilities 

Forbes:  Attracting Talent Through Corporate Social Responsibility:  3 Myths Debunked 

Investopedia:  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 

About the Author

Alison Powers, MBA, is the Manager of Chapter and District Programs at the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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