6 Common CSR Program Challenges (And How You Can Solve Them)
Successfully implementing a corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy is both challenging and complex. That's why SmartSimple is happy to offer practical workshops on five CSR topics to help solve some of the most common challenges when building out or improving your responsibility strategy, such as integrating with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
We sat down and talked with Karen Malone, Founder of LitPark – an SDG and sustainability consulting agency – and facilitator of our two-hour CSR workshops. Karen strategically works with companies to identify the best opportunities for meaningful, action-oriented approaches to social responsibility and sustainability. We went over some common challenges that she consults with CSR program leaders to help solve. Here’s what she had to say.
Getting everyone on board
"There's often a gap between leadership goals and employee enthusiasm," says Malone. Many times there's a dissonance or disconnect between the company’s CSR mission statement and staff commitment.
"Strong CSR programs have strong employee engagement," continues Malone. "When you develop an effective CSR program that speaks directly to the interests of your employees, there's more unification from your employee efforts overall."
Different departments, different priorities
Another challenge that those leading their company’s CSR initiatives struggle with are not being able to unify all departments and business units across their organization, while committing to a single CSR mission statement. "What might make sense to the sales department might not make sense to the finance department," says Malone.
However, Karen states that a single mission can also be a flexible one. "It takes a little creativity to adapt a consistent CSR mission that’s applicable to all departments," continues Malone. "A single cause can be tackled through multiple avenues by identifying opportunities across the organization and its business units."
No clear metric of proving value
"I was working with a large entertainment company that was interested in creating a CSR program, but they didn't have an established reporting system to prove the desired scale of their program’s impact," says Malone. The hesitation of not being able to prove a CSR program’s impact to key stakeholders and the public can often deter some companies from even starting one in the first place.
"How you disclose the results of your CSR program’s efforts ultimately impacts your brand and profit on a deep level," continues Malone. The key to alleviating these challenges is knowing what to report and how to effectively communicate it to the public.
Implementing any of the 17 SDGs with your operations, for example, can add a new layer of complexity when creating and maintaining CSR programs. For Directors and Managers of CSR initiatives, this can evoke specific fears of their own because of their global context and reach.
Muddying the waters
The fear of negative public perception can be an omnipresent concern for CSR leaders, particularly if they may be aligning their efforts with intergovernmental organizations like the United Nations.
"At a general glance, companies can fear that the public might ask the question, "what does the government know about running a business?" and feel that politics and business are becoming too enmeshed," says Malone.
Too daunting of a task
The United Nations SDGs are composed of 17 global goals and targets to be achieved by 2030. When looking at all of them at once, it can be daunting to know which ones are making the most compelling business case to align operations with and champion.
"It's more common than you think that companies look at all 17 global goals at once instead of seeing them as individual goals," says Malone. The key is to focus in on one of the SDGs, figure out how it aligns with your general CSR mission statement, and break the work down into bite-sized, achievable targets.
Business is good, why change it?
Don't fix what isn't broken, right? Wrong. With the rise of shareholder expectations on global issues and increasing accountability on companies, business is not "as usual" and is changing rapidly.
According Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data, seven in 10 US Millennials actively consider company values when making purchases. "Companies not adopting CSR policies are not seeing the benefit of opening up new client channels through focused CSR missions," says Malone. When it comes to CSR strategy, it's better to be proactive with a plan in place than be reactive until you need one.
According to Harvard Business Review, companies that are highly purpose-driven outperform the market by 5-7% per year in growth and profitability.
Karen Malone has designed five workshop topics with actionable learning outcomes addressing some of the biggest challenges companies face in CSR today. These topics range from integrating with the SDGs to driving employee engagement and best practices in reporting impact. We’re even offering a design-your-own workshop if you can't find a topic that suits your needs. You'll receive your workshop at no cost when you book a demo of SmartSimple Engage – the only all-in-one CSR management software solution that fully integrates with the SDGs.