Five tips for building a CSR strategy from scratch
So you've just been hired as your company's first CSR manager, and you're trying to work out where to begin. Or maybe you've been asked to develop a CSR strategy as part of your (already very busy) day job.
I know all too well how daunting it can be to get started. There are a million different directions you could go, and the choice can be as overwhelming as it is exciting. Finder.com is Australia’s most visited comparison site, and when I joined as its first CSR manager in 2018, I felt all of those things. In this blog, I’ve tried to boil down my learnings into five tips to help you navigate this journey.
1) Understand your boss
Someone in your organisation has tasked you with this challenge. Who are they? What did they have in mind? What are their objectives?
I’d strongly recommend beginning with these questions so you start on the right track. To achieve this, find enough time to discuss the issue in depth and then listen intently. They may not understand the role and value of CSR like you do, but they probably have a better view of how the business works and what will fit with the direction it is heading.
Actively ask those big questions and other probing, open-ended questions. What social or environmental issues are particularly important for the business? Are there any pain-points for the industry as a whole? What is important to them personally? What is their view on charity partnerships? Would they be happy for a staff volunteering programme? Do they have a budget in mind for the program?
You don’t have to do exactly as they propose but doing something completely different to their vision is unlikely to get their approval. Afterall, if your ideas aren’t approved, then you won’t be able to get internal buy-in and the work you do will be redundant.
2) Listen for the key issues
Listening to the boss is just step one of your listening journey. The next step is to get a view of other stakeholders. In old-school CSR jargon, this is called a “materiality assessment”. In plain English, this means listening to relevant people about what’s important to them. By important people, this means employees, customers, key regulators, any prominent charities in your industry and most likely your competitors.
Despite what many consultancies will tell you, there is no right way to do this. Go as wide or as narrow as your budget allows and get as many points of view as you can. Broadly speaking, you’re trying to find out how important the topic is to that stakeholder while evaluating the impact it has on your business. Even if you’re at a small company, a quick survey of your staff will go a long way as will desk research on the topics your peers are addressing.
Compile all of your findings and pull out the key topics. The aim of the game is to focus on the themes that have a big impact on your business while also being important to your stakeholders. Chances are you’ll uncover all the issues you have already guessed, but this process adds validity to your argument and ensures you aren’t missing anything.
3) Pick your levers wisely
Once you’ve worked out the issues to take aim at, the next job is to work out the best way of tackling them. Again, the good (and bad news) is that there are lots of levers at your disposal. The key here is to make the most of the assets that your company has at its disposal. What does your company do best? How can these things be used to tackle the issue you’re looking at?
As some thought starters, ask yourself the following: Do you have a high-value skillset as a business that you can offer on a pro-bono basis? Do you have an extensive supply chain that could be utilised for good? Does your company have significant environmental impacts that need addressing? Are their changes you can make to your product that will improve their impact on the world? Could you even create a new product that does this explicitly?
There’s no right answer here. Get creative and try to put your company’s best foot forward.
4) Build the business case
You’re nearly there, but now you face the biggest challenge yet. Getting your plans approved.
At this stage, it’s crucial to put your business hat on. Your plans are going to cost money so consider the return on investment. Building out the business case will be key to getting the green light and there’s plenty of research out there to help you.
Research has shown employees are keen to work for companies that are socially responsible, many customers will pay more for products from companies that are socially responsible and sustainable investing is growing in influence all over the world. Whatever it is – make a case in pounds and pence. The social impact of your program is crucial, but so is the commercial impact it has on your business so don’t forget to focus on this too.
5) Get going and course correct
It’s very easy to get paralysed by analysis when starting out on this journey, but the best piece of advice I can give is to just get going with something. Start small and build from there. Remember that you can always course correct as you go.
Here at Finder, it became clear that, like most businesses, sustainability was a key issue for us. We got going quickly and started small by making changes around our offices. We improved our recycling rates with better bins and signage; we reduced our emissions by switching to a greener electricity provider, and we reduced our food waste by finding a charity to collect our unused lunch each day.
Soon though, it became clear we would have a much bigger impact by influencing the decisions our customers make on our comparison website. Since then, we’ve launched Finder Green to encourage our users to opt for options that are eco-friendly, green and ethical. This wasn’t the initial plan, but we got going and learned on the fly.
We’re still early on our journey at Finder, but these steps have helped me to get things going. We’re now very focused on the topics of “Sustainable Action” and “Financial Betterment” with lots of experimentation planned for the levers we use to create impact in that space. Watch this space for more partnerships and external events on financial literacy in the near future. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you if you’re in a similar position to see where the journey takes you.
Ben King is corporate social responsibility manager at FinderBen King