The Larger Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

Corporate social responsibility programs can provide employees with feelings of gratitude and help to improve company morale.

By Marilyn Mages

FRM NovDec OnlineExclusive

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs date back to the 1970s when the concept of the “social contract” began between business and society, according to the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals. It is the idea that businesses have an obligation to constructively serve the needs of society. 

As that idea grew, organizations understood that their stakeholders went beyond the boardroom and that when their customers and communities were healthy and vibrant, their companies would be as well. 

Today, consumers expect that CSR programs are part of the fabric of the organization and not a secondary mission to “do good.” For that reason, these programs are taking on an added dimension by becoming more ingrained into organizations’ daily operations and missions. Programs should be designed to be cross-departmental, as well as relatable to the members or customers served by the organization. 

CSR programs can provide employees with feelings of gratitude and can help to improve company morale. Generally, companies with robust programs see employees stay longer, work harder and report greater levels of happiness.

Planned prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, The Institute of Food Technologist’s annual meeting, SHIFT20, was scheduled to meet in person in July 2020 in Chicago. Recognizing that the in-person meeting wasn’t going to happen, Jaime Gutshall, manager of Feeding Tomorrow, IFT’s Foundation, quickly began considering alternatives to help the community in a different way.

“The Board of Trustees recognized that there was an immediate need in light of the environment and the pandemic to have a different kind of impact on the local Chicago community,” says Gutshall.

Because the meeting was supposed to be in Chicago, IFT and Feeding Tomorrow decided to work with the Greater Chicagoland Food Depository to provide support for the community. The group held a virtual fun run and fitness event as well as asked for direct donations. Participants were asked to register through social media or via the SHIFT20 meeting registration webpage. “Thanks to the generosity of our members and attendees, we provided 3,405 meals to those in need,” Gutshall says. “This project helped IFT and Feeding Tomorrow respond to the pandemic, and immediately and directly support a critical Chicago need. We really wanted to help, and our members were supportive of this plan. It was such a great experience and something we will move forward with in the future.”

Start from the Inside Out

Michael Hoffman is CEO of Gather Voices, a user-generated video company. He also teaches marketing at the University of Chicago. Hoffman says that companies get involved in CSR programs because they want the community to know that they support their programs. Sponsoring baseball teams and painting schools are still important projects, but more organizations are expanding their efforts and making CSR programs core to their business plans.

The events of 2020 have given companies ample opportunity to become involved in their communities. “Companies have typically stayed away from politics,” Hoffman says. However, he acknowledges that many organizations have changed their tune this past year. For example, organizations around the Chicagoland area issued responses after police shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. This type of allyship was also seen in the spring when companies flooded consumer inboxes with statements in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Association Forum urges associations to create a Welcoming Environment® in their organizations, including offering resources to start that journey. Take, for example, an Ignite the Restart article where CEO Michelle Mason, CAE, asked people to support Jacob Blake’s GoFundMe campaign.  

Hoffman also took to Twitter to support the community at large on September 1, saying: “Don’t be silent. Keep working for change. Join us @Gather_Voices and support mothersagainstpolicebrutality.org.”

A Welcoming Environment is just one piece of an overall CSR program; in fact, they work together. Association Forum recognizes that you cannot just hire diverse people and say you are diverse. It is important to have programs that actively seek to enhance the larger community by recognizing that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Association Forum works to make everyone feel welcomed, represented, engaged, inspired and empowered.

Today, transparency is key. “We are at the point where you can’t hide things anymore, and every customer is on social media and online,” Hoffman says. “Consumers are smart and will know what side of the discussion you are on.”

Creating a Successful Program

Toy companies have assisted the community for years, especially when it comes to donating toys to children in need. Stephen J. Pasierb is the President and Chief Executive of the United States Toy Association. “While the pandemic has definitely made it harder with budgets being cut, toy companies are still contributing products through the Toy Foundation to those in need,” Pasierb says.

The Toy Foundation’s mission is to provide joy and comfort to children in need through the experience of toys and play. The industry has always been there. “Last year during a hurricane, a nonprofit’s teddy bear donation to military families were ruined. So, members stepped up and sent replacements for [everything] that was destroyed,” Pasierb says.

During the pandemic, the foundation’s parent company, The Toy Association, pivoted to focus on promoting its consumer-facing program, The Genius of Play. It is a national program that works to help the public learn more about the importance of play in a child’s life. “This is the real success. It is a great example of how members of a trade association have come together for good,” Pasierb says.

The toy industry has shared stories over the last decade, translated scientific studies on childhood play, which includes structured and unstructured time, and included all the ways that play is significant in a child’s healthy development. “The Genius of Play is changing parental attitudes and behaviors giving children and teens increased play and helping to limit structured and overprogrammed teens,” he says.   

The website and social media presence helps parents who have children at home in e-learning by providing them with activities and games. The website highlights that play has real benefits, including physical, emotional and social benefits. “Through play, kids learn how to interact with others and reach critical developmental milestones,” according to the site.

This program has been more important than ever this year since most activities have been cut. It has mostly been promoted through social media, especially since the budget was slashed and promotional plans were decreased. Yet, this program has survived and grown in popularity.

CSR programs work best when they are incorporated into all aspects of the organization. It shows members that the foothold within the community is strong and shows the community why it should continue supporting the industry. 

About the Author

Marilyn Mages, CAE, has worked in associations for 20 years. She currently is the Director of Marketing and Membership at the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and can be reached at marilyn@aaid.com.

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