Corporate Social Responsibility Plan Template

Corporate Social Responsibility Plan Template

What is a Corporate Social Responsibility Plan?

A Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) plan is an actionable strategy that outlines how a business plans to meet its obligations to its stakeholders and the public. It includes goals, objectives, and initiatives that are meant to address social issues and the environment, while also creating business value. This plan can help a business to plan and manage its initiatives, investments, and resources to ensure that it delivers on its commitments.

What's included in this Corporate Social Responsibility Plan template?

  • 3 focus areas
  • 6 objectives

Each focus area has its own objectives, projects, and KPIs to ensure that the strategy is comprehensive and effective.

Who is the Corporate Social Responsibility Plan template for?

The Corporate Social Responsibility Plan template is designed to help organizations of all sizes, from startups to large corporations, create a plan to manage their corporate social responsibility strategies. This template provides an easy-to-follow framework to help guide the development of an effective and comprehensive CSR plan that can guide a business in making positive contributions to society and the environment.

1. Define clear examples of your focus areas

The first step in creating a CSR plan is to define the focus areas that the plan will address. These focus areas should be based on the organization's core mission and values, and should reflect the areas in which the organization has the most impact. Examples of focus areas could include sustainable energy, sustainable water, human resources, and community engagement.

2. Think about the objectives that could fall under that focus area

Once focus areas have been identified, it is important to consider the objectives that could fall within each focus area. Objectives should be specific, measurable, achievable, and relevant, and they should be aligned with the organization's core mission and values. Examples of objectives could include reducing energy consumption, increasing reliance on renewable energy sources, reducing water consumption, and increasing employee engagement.

3. Set measurable targets (KPIs) to tackle the objective

Once objectives have been identified, it is important to set measurable targets, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), to track progress towards each objective. KPIs should include an initial value, a target value, and a unit of measurement. Examples of KPIs could include a 10% decrease in energy consumption, a 25% increase in renewable energy consumption, a 20% decrease in water consumption, and a 25% increase in employee engagement.

4. Implement related projects to achieve the KPIs

Once KPIs have been set, it is important to implement related projects to achieve the desired outcomes. Projects should be designed to address the objectives and KPIs, and should be monitored and evaluated to ensure that they are having the desired effect. Examples of projects could include upgrading to energy efficient lighting, implementing solar panels, installing water-efficient fixtures, and offering comprehensive benefits packages.

5. Utilize Cascade Strategy Execution Platform to see faster results from your strategy

The Cascade Strategy Execution Platform is the ultimate tool for managing corporate social responsibility strategies. It provides an easy-to-use framework for creating, managing, and evaluating CSR initiatives, while providing insights into the performance of the strategy. With Cascade, organizations can quickly and easily create a comprehensive CSR plan and track progress towards their objectives, ensuring that they are meeting their commitments to their stakeholders and the public.

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Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Explained With Examples

plan for corporate social responsibility

Katrina Ávila Munichiello is an experienced editor, writer, fact-checker, and proofreader with more than fourteen years of experience working with print and online publications.

plan for corporate social responsibility

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable to itself, its stakeholders, and the public. By practicing corporate social responsibility, also called corporate citizenship , companies can be conscious of the kind of impact they are having on all aspects of society, including economic, social, and environmental.

Engaging in CSR means that, in the ordinary course of business, a company is operating in ways that enhance society and the environment instead of contributing negatively to them.

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Key Takeaways

  • Corporate social responsibility is a business model by which companies make a concerted effort to operate in ways that enhance rather than degrade society and the environment.
  • CSR can help improve various aspects of society as well as promote a positive brand image for companies.
  • Corporate responsibility programs can also raise morale in the workplace.  
  • CSR is often broken into four categories: environmental impacts, ethical responsibility, philanthropic endeavors, and financial responsibilities.
  • Some examples of companies that strive to be leaders in CSR include Starbucks and Ben & Jerry's.

Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Corporate social responsibility is a broad concept that can take many forms depending on the company and industry. Through CSR programs, philanthropy, and volunteer efforts, businesses can benefit society while boosting their brands.

For a company to be socially responsible , it first needs to be accountable to itself and its shareholders. Companies that adopt CSR programs have often grown their business to the point where they can give back to society. Thus, CSR is typically a strategy that's implemented by large corporations. After all, the more visible and successful a corporation is, the more responsibility it has to set standards of ethical behavior for its peers, competition, and industry .

Small and midsize businesses also create social responsibility programs, although their initiatives are rarely as well-publicized as those of larger corporations.

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility

In general, there are four main types of corporate social responsibility. A company may choose to engage in any of these separately, and lack of involvement in one area does not necessarily exclude a company from being socially responsible.

Environmental Responsibility

Environmental responsibility is the pillar of corporate social responsibility rooted in preserving mother nature. Through optimal operations and support of related causes, a company can ensure that it leaves natural resources better than before its operations. A company can pursue environmental stewardship through:

  • Reducing pollution, waste, natural resource consumption, and emissions through its manufacturing process.
  • Recycling goods and materials throughout its processes, including promoting re-use practices with its customers.
  • Offsetting negative impacts by replenishing natural resources or supporting causes that can help neutralize the company's impact. For example, a manufacturer that deforests trees may commit to planting the same amount or more.
  • Distributing goods consciously by choosing methods that have the least impact on emissions and pollution.
  • Creating product lines that enhance these values. For example, a company that offers a gas lawnmower may design an electric lawnmower.

Ethical Responsibility

Ethical responsibility is the pillar of corporate social responsibility rooted in acting in a fair, ethical manner. Companies often set their own standards, although external forces or demands by clients may shape ethical goals. Instances of ethical responsibility include:

  • Fair treatment across all types of customers regardless of age, race, culture, or sexual orientation.
  • Positive treatment of all employees including favorable pay and benefits in excess of mandated minimums. This includes fair employment consideration for all individuals regardless of personal differences.
  • Expansion of vendor use to utilize different suppliers of different races, genders, veteran statuses, or economic statuses.
  • Honest disclosure of operating concerns to investors in a timely and respectful manner. Though not always mandated, a company may choose to manage its relationship with external stakeholders beyond what is legally required.

Philanthropic Responsibility

Philanthropic responsibility is the pillar of corporate social responsibility that challenges how a company acts and how it contributes to society. In its simplest form, philanthropic responsibility refers to how a company spends its resources to make the world a better place. This includes:

  • Whether a company donates profit to charities or causes it believes in.
  • Whether a company enters into transactions only with suppliers or vendors that align with the company philanthropically.
  • Whether a company supports employee philanthropic endeavors through time off or matching contributions.
  • Whether a company sponsors fundraising events or has a presence in the community.

Financial Responsibility

Financial responsibility is the pillar of corporate social responsibility that ties together the three areas above. A company might make plans to be more environmentally, ethically, and philanthropically focused; however, it must back these plans through financial investments of programs, donations, or product research. This includes spending on:

  • Research and development for new products that encourage sustainability.
  • Recruiting different types of talent to ensure a diverse workforce.
  • Initiatives that train employees on DEI, social awareness, or environmental concerns.
  • Processes that might be more expensive but yield greater CSR results.
  • Ensuring transparent and timely financial reporting including external audits.


Some corporate social responsibility models replace financial responsibility with a sense of volunteerism. Otherwise, most models still include environmental, ethical, and philanthropic as types of CSR.

Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

As important as CSR is for the community, it is equally valuable for a company. CSR activities can help forge a stronger bond between employees and corporations, boost morale, and aid both employees and employers in feeling more connected to the world around them. Aside from the positive impacts to the planet, here are some additional reasons businesses pursue corporate social responsibility.

Brand Recognition

According to a study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, consumers are more likely to act favorably toward a company that has acted to benefit its customers as opposed to companies that have demonstrated an ability to delivery quality products. Customers are increasingly becoming more aware of the impacts companies can have on their community, and many now base purchasing decisions on the CSR aspect of a business. As a company engages more in CSR, it is more likely to receive favorable brand recognition .

Investor Relations

In a study by Boston Consulting Group, companies that are considered leaders in environmental, social, or governance matters had an 11% valuation premium over their competitors. For companies looking to get an edge and outperform the market, enacting CSR strategies tends to improve how investors feel about an organization and how they view the worth of the company.

Employee Engagement

Another study by professionals from Texas A&M, Temple, and the University of Minnesota found that CSR-related aligning firms and employees serve as non-financial job benefits that strengthen employee retention. Workers are more likely to stick around a company that they believe in. This in turn reduces employee turnover, disgruntled workers, and the total cost of a new employee .

Risk Mitigation

By adhering to CSR practices, companies can mitigate risk by avoiding troubling situations. This includes preventing adverse activities such as discrimination against employee groups, disregard for natural resources, or unethical use of company funds. This type of activity is likely to lead to lawsuits, litigation , or legal proceedings that may harm the company financially or expose it to negative news headlines.

CSR strategies may be difficult to assess strategically because not all benefits may be financially translatable back to the company. For example, it might be very difficult to assess the positive impact to a company's brand image that planting 1 million trees may have.

In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) released ISO 26000, a set of voluntary standards meant to help companies implement corporate social responsibility. Unlike other ISO standards, ISO 26000 provides guidance rather than requirements because the nature of CSR is more qualitative than quantitative, and its standards cannot be certified.

ISO 26000 clarifies what social responsibility is and helps organizations translate CSR principles into practical actions. The standard is aimed at all types of organizations, regardless of their activity, size, or location. And because many key stakeholders from around the world contributed to developing ISO 26000, this standard represents an international consensus.

Examples of Corporate Social Responsibility

Starbucks ( SBUX ) has long been known for its keen sense of corporate social responsibility and commitment to sustainability and community welfare. In its 2022 Environmental and Social Impact Report, the coffee giant highlights taking care of its workforce and the planet among its CSR priorities. Starbucks points to its investments in its employees through stock grants and providing additional medical, family, and educational benefits. In terms of environmental sustainability, the company's goals include achieving 50% reductions in greenhouse gas emission, water consumption, and waste by 2030.

As part of its annual reporting on ESG, Home Depot ( HD ) highlighted its achievements in focusing on its employees, operating sustainably, and strengthening its communities. The company has invested more than 1 million hours per year in training to help front-line employees advance in their careers, aims to produce or procure 100% renewable energy to operate its facilities by 2030, and has plans to spend $5 billion per year with diverse suppliers by 2025.

General Motors

General Motors won the Sustainability Leadership Award from Business Intelligence Group in 2022 and was among Diversity Inc.'s top 50 companies for diversity for a seventh consecutive year in 2021. According to its latest Sustainability Report, the automaker provided $60 million in grants to more than 400 U.S. nonprofits focusing on social issues, and it has agreements in place to use 100% renewable electricity at its U.S. sites by 2025.

Why Should a Company Implement CSR Strategies?

Many companies view CSR as an integral part of their brand image, believing that customers will be more likely to do business with brands that they perceive to be more ethical. In this sense, CSR activities can be an important component of corporate public relations. At the same time, some company founders are also motivated to engage in CSR due to their convictions.

Why Is CSR Important?

The movement toward CSR has had an impact in several domains. For example, many companies have taken steps to improve the environmental sustainability of their operations, through measures such as installing renewable energy sources or purchasing carbon offsets. In managing supply chains, efforts have also been taken to eliminate reliance on unethical labor practices, such as child labor and slavery.

Although CSR programs have generally been most common among large corporations, small businesses also participate in CSR through smaller-scale programs, such as donating to local charities and sponsoring local events .

What Are the Benefits of CSR?

CRS initiatives strive to have a positive impact on the world through direct benefits to society, nature and the community in which a business operations. In addition, a company may experience internal benefits through the initiatives. Knowing their company is promoting good causes, employee satisfaction may increase and retention of staff may be strengthened. In addition, members of society may be more likely to choose to transact with companies that are attempting to make a more conscious positive impact beyond the scope of its business.

What Are the 4 Types of CSR?

CSR initiatives are often broken down into four categories: environmental, philanthropic, ethical, and economic responsibility. Environmental initiatives focus on preservation of natural resources, while philanthropic initiatives focus on donating to worthy causes that may not relate to a business. Ethical responsibility ensures fair and honest business operations, while economic responsibility promotes the fiscal support of the goals above.

What Companies Have the Best CSR?

There is no single defining rubric for evaluating the CSR of all companies. Various sources will review and compile rankings differently. Since 1999, Corporate Responsibility Magazine has ranked the top 100 Best Corporate Citizens each year among the 1,000 largest U.S. public companies. Rankings are determined based on employee relations, environment impact, human rights, governance, and financial decisions.

In 2022, the top five ranked companies on the list were Owens Corning ( OC ), PepsiCo ( PEP ), Apple ( AAPL ), H.P. ( HPQ ), and Cisco ( CSCO ).

Companies striving to measure success beyond bottom-line financial results may adopt corporate social responsibility strategies. These strategies may target environmental, ethical, philanthropic, and fiscal responsibility that extend beyond the products they sell. CSR aims to make the world a better place beyond transacting with customers and may result in company-specific benefits as well.

Frontiers in Psychology. " Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Engagement: Enabling Employees to Employ More of Their Whole Selves at Work ."

Ben & Jerry's. " Socially Responsible Causes Ben & Jerry's Has Advocated For ."

Society for Consumer Psychology. " Good Guys Can Finish First: How Brand Reputation Affects Extension Evaluations ."

Boston Consulting Group. " Your Supply Chain Needs a Sustainability Strategy ."

Social Science Research Network. " Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Retention ."

International Organization for Standardization. " ISO 26000, Social Responsibility ."

Starbucks. " 2022 Starbucks Global Environmental and Social Impact Report ," Pages 6 and 32.

Home Depot. " ESG Report (2022) ," Pages 9-10.

General Motors. " 2022 Sustainability Report ," Pages 6-7.

3BL Media. " 100 Best Corporate Citizens of 2022 ."

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7 Best Practices for Creating an Impactful CSR Strategy

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Updated: 02/13/2024

Once upon a time, businesses could focus on profitability above all else. 

Not any more: modern companies are expected to care about making the world better. They’re expected to serve their communities, listen to their customers, take public stances (and action) on important issues, value and support employees, work for sustainability, and respond to current events. 

CSR (corporate social responsibility) programs are one way businesses are meeting this mandate. And standout programs addressing social and environmental issues are most often the result of thoughtful CSR strategies. 

Whether you’re new to CSR or looking to refine existing initiatives, understanding the ins and outs of CSR strategy is a prerequisite for creating successful programs with lasting impacts. The new “business as usual” demands smart social responsibility—are you ready to meet the challenge?

What is CSR strategy? Why have a CSR strategy? Best practices for creating a CSR strategy

What is CSR strategy? 

CSR strategy is the comprehensive plan companies and funders use to design, execute, and analyze their corporate social responsibility initiatives. It includes specific focus areas, program design, promotion and communication approaches, and evaluation procedures. 

nestle logo

Most companies with thriving CSR initiatives use strategy to build and monitor their programs; a few of these companies also share their strategy publicly. Nestle is a great example, offering detailed insight into their brand’s approach (called “Creating Shared Value”) that includes long-term goals for serving individuals, families, communities, and the planet, as well as measurement procedures and transparent performance and reporting .  

Google report cover

Some companies also release an annual corporate responsibility report which is another useful way for you to see what a CSR strategy can look like. Google’s 2020 Environment Report includes priorities, company mission, performance targets, and detailed analysis in five key focus areas. 

Why have a CSR strategy?

In the world of CSR, it’s especially prudent to look before you leap. 

This is because successful CSR initiatives are intricate, complex, and require demonstrable impact. They’re also public-facing (and potentially brand-damaging when done poorly). And they offer a host of business benefits you might miss out on by failing to plan. 

A well-crafted CSR strategy can help you:

Keep everything organized

Great CSR initiatives involve lots of people, multiple goals, tons of data, and countless responsibilities. Your CSR strategy is an opportunity to get everything in order and prepare to stay on top of all the details. 

Improve impacts

According to Deloitte’s third annual global survey of more than 2,000 C-suite executives at companies with societal impact goals, the presence of comprehensive strategy directly correlated with greater success (measured by innovation, growth, and employee acquisition). 

plan for corporate social responsibility

Protect your brand reputation 

Launching a corporate responsibility initiative without proper foresight is a big risk—that’s because your CSR program will be a public-facing endeavor with multiple stakeholders and partners who expect follow-through. Strategic planning can reduce the possibility that your company will gain a reputation for big talk and no action, which can ultimately harm your bottom line.

Take full advantage of CSR program benefits

CSR benefits list

CSR has a host of potential benefits for your company. A successful corporate responsibility initiative will benefit your community and serve your employees. It will also improve your brand image, attracting new talent and increasing customer loyalty. Ultimately, these outcomes can contribute to revenue and drive your company’s growth. In order to reap the full business benefits of CSR, you’ll want a strategy that’s brand-aligned, well-researched, responsive, partnership-driven (at all levels), and constantly evolving in pursuit of positive impacts everyone can feel good about.

plan for corporate social responsibility

Best practices for creating a CSR Strategy

Understanding the role and value of a CSR strategy is an important first step. 

Now, how do you create and develop a CSR strategy that gets results? There are seven key tactics for strategic planning that will help improve the outcomes of your business’s CSR activities.

1. Link to company values

Whereas CSR was once seen as a peripheral approach to boosting business performance and legitimacy, today’s best CSR initiatives are squarely brand-aligned and central to operational strategy. 

Connecting CSR to business strategy is increasingly a corporate best practice, as evidenced by the 181 CEO’s from brands like Amazon, Citigroup, and Ford who signed Business Roundtable’s latest Statement of Purpose , indicating a commitment to “ to lead their companies for the benefit of all stakeholders—customers, employees, suppliers, communities, and shareholders. ”

What it looks like to align your CSR strategy with your brand, core competencies, and operational strategy, will be different for every company.

WarnerMedia Access Writers Program logo

WarnerMedia’s Access Writers Program is a great example of a CSR initiative that clearly links back to company values: WarnerMedia is a media corporation focused on diverse entertainment whose latest program seeks to improve the access marginalized community members have to professional opportunities in television. 

2. Get insights from your various stakeholders

You’ll want to develop a strategic plan for CSR inspired by what your customers, employees, and community members care about. You might also seek inspiration from what’s worked for other brands already. Here’s how:

Poll your customers

The creation of a CSR strategy is a great excuse to connect with your customer base. Build a short, easy to access poll to collect the following information:

  • Which environmental and social issues matter most to your customers?

Design your poll in alignment with your brand. For example, if you sell custom T-shirts, are customers most interested in your sustainability, supply chain, dedication to labor and human rights, or donations to kids in need? Focused questions will lead to more actionable results.

  • What do customers know about your current giving and initiatives?  

If you have run programs in the past or currently engage in CSR, how well did you communicate about them? Are your initiatives known for success?

  • What associations do customers have with your brand? 

This is a great opportunity to collect data about your business’s image, which you can try to influence in your new CSR strategy.

To help boost participation, consider offering an incentive to customers who complete your poll, such as a discount or entry into a drawing. 

Collect employee feedback 

Your CSR strategy doesn’t move without your employees. Start by determining your employees’ preferences and using that information to help build your overall strategy. 

A survey is a great tool to collect this important information, combining multiple-choice and open-ended questions. 

plan for corporate social responsibility

As an example, for your T-shirt company, you might have employees select between three brand-aligned volunteer opportunities followed by an opportunity for open feedback. This approach will you help you get the targeted data you need and also help employees feel heard and valued. 

Assess community needs

What “community” looks like is unique for every business. Taking time to research and consider what your community needs is a great first step towards building the partnerships your CSR program will need to succeed. 

Community Tool Box offers great suggestions for understanding community needs and resources, with methods that can be combined, depending on the extent of data you’re looking to connect. 

3. Borrow great strategy

Your CSR strategy doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel. Spend time exploring where other businesses have succeeded in their sustainability, charitable giving, and employee engagement, for example. Don’t worry about being derivative: your strategy will necessarily be unique because your brand is unique and so are the people you care about and listen to.

One way to find brands doing the best CSR is via reports like “ America’s Most Responsible Companies ” from Newsweek and Statista—and congratulations to HP , Cisco , and Dell for top success in three focus areas: environment, social, and corporate governance. 

plan for corporate social responsibility

Harvard Business School’s Baker Library offers a comprehensive list of social responsibility ratings and reports for companies. Of particular interest is Fortune’s “ Change the World ” list—you’ll find PayPal and Zoom in the top 10 for 2020. 

Many companies have aligned their CSR activities in some way with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that include issues like poverty, hunger, education, gender equality, and action around climate change. Chevron’s corporate sustainability program , for example, clearly lays out how the company is addressing every SDG, and Target includes an SDG index in their 2020 corporate social responsibility report .

4. Establish internal buy-in

You’ll need your team’s support, enthusiasm, and dedication to make your social responsibility program thrive. Engage employees early in the strategy process by being responsive and inclusive.

Respond to team values

Once you’ve assessed what your employees care about most and where they want the company to focus, put this data to work. 

It probably won’t be possible to incorporate everyone’s feedback in your strategy, but at the very least, share your findings with the group. Your team will enjoy learning about what their colleagues value.

Use the information you’ve collected to identify top areas of interest and common suggestions for your CSR strategy. Try to actively pursue at least one employee-sourced initiative every quarter or fiscal year, with formal plans for addressing additional issues in the future. 

Involve employees in strategy-building

Research shows that shared leadership and employee-empowerment have a number of benefits , including increased team effectiveness, a stronger sense of community, improved employee perceptions of management, higher levels of employee satisfaction, and less burnout. 

That data combined with evidence that corporate social responsibility boosts employee motivation and increases employee engagement makes sharing the planning of your program with staff a natural win-win.

Whether you establish an employee-led committee or include employee representatives in planning sessions, be sure employees are actively engaged and aligned with your CSR visions and values, missions and goals, and on-the-ground initiatives. 

5. Build external partnerships

There’s already good work going on in the communities you’re looking to empower. Seek out the organizations and individuals doing this work early in your CSR strategy development process. 

Many businesses are already reaping the value of partnership-driven CSR. This list from Donorbox offers examples of 14 major brands, including Adidas, IKEA, Apple, and BMW, that have partnered with community nonprofit organizations to better meet their CSR goals.  

Community organizations will have the knowledge and experience to put your brand’s funding, sponsorship, or employee volunteerism, for example, to the best use. As philanthropic leader Edgar Viallanueva recently advised, “ You shouldn’t feel that you need to recreate what’s already in place. Find organizations that have established relationships with grassroots communities and trust them to get the money to the right people. These bridge organizations often have the relationships and trust, but lack sufficient capital.”

Approach community partnerships with humility and take a learning stance—what do partner organizations need most and how can your business help? In addition to deep listening, be sure you’re establishing authentic relationships with partners. Sustainable and equitable partnerships (as opposed to shallow partnerships for the sake of PR) require that community members hold actual decision-making power, especially regarding campaigns that will directly affect them. 

6. Be clear and transparent

Once you’ve tackled brand-alignment, stakeholders’ concerns (including customers, employees, and community members), and partner-driven strategy, it’s time to distill this wealth of information into a clear communication plan.

Get specific about goals and outcomes

Your CSR strategy should be as clear and specific as possible for a few reasons:

  • A clear strategy helps keep everyone on the same page
  • The more focused your goals are, the easier it will be to assess if you’ve met them 
  • Clarity reflects positively on your brand’s commitment to corporate social responsibility, demonstrating rigor and care

Aim for precise language, numbered goals (each communicated in a single sentence if possible), key strategies and initiatives for meeting each goal, and measurement tactics for assessing progress towards each goal. Be sure to include your mission, vision, and partners.

Campbells logo

Campbell’s Soup provides a great example of clarity and synthesis in its corporate responsibility strategy—especially this goals chart which lists target objectives alongside current progress displayed numerically and graphically.

Make a communications plan

Your CSR strategy shouldn’t be a secret. Think through how you’ll share this information internally and externally to foster enthusiasm, boost stakeholder engagement, and enhance accountability.

Your CSR strategy should include your plan for regularly and publicly discussing your CSR initiatives—via your website, social media, newsletters, email updates, reports, and even press releases. 

Sharing high-level corporate strategy publicly can help generate interest in your CSR programs. It also indicates transparency and accountability—you’re sharing your plan because you intend to follow through and be accountable.

Use the same principles for sharing your strategy that you will to talk about your active and completed CSR campaigns, including these considerations adapted from the EMG group :

  • Objectives: What do you want to accomplish with your CSR communication plan?
  • Audience: Who will you communicate with? 
  • Subjects and key messages: What will you tell your audience about?
  • Timescales: When will you communicate about CSR?
  • Channels: Where will you communicate with your audience?
  • Feedback: How will your audience be able to engage with you?

7. Learn, respond, and improve

In the world of CSR, there is always room for improvement, because CSR is about people and people are dynamic. Our needs change and so does the world we live in. 

Accordingly, your CSR strategy won’t be complete without a plan for learning, adjustment, and growth—or as Global Giving puts it, the opportunity to “Listen, Act, Learn. Repeat.” 

Plan for reporting and feedback 

Data and feedback collection should be an essential part of your CSR strategy. Don’t wait for an initiative to finish to consider how you’ll assess outcomes—planning ahead will help ensure your whole strategy is aligned with what you hope to achieve and how you’ll demonstrate progress.

You also shouldn’t wait until the end of a campaign to begin your learning process. Establish a timeline for collecting information at regular intervals throughout your initiative.

There are plenty of ways to collect data and feedback, including interviews, surveys and questionnaires, observational data, focus groups, public forums, oral histories, or some combination of these. Plan to use the tools that make the most sense for your CSR initiative. 

Whichever method you choose, be sure your strategy involves connecting with all relevant groups and stakeholders. What results did you achieve among community members and where could you improve? How did employees feel about your CSR program and what suggestions do they have going forward? Were customers interested in your campaign? 

plan for corporate social responsibility

Your plan for measuring CSR performance should include how you’ll collect information and from whom, how you’ll assess the data, how you’ll share your findings, and how you’ll incorporate suggestions for improvement.

Be responsive to learning and to the moment

Your CSR strategy shouldn’t be iron-clad. It should evolve in response to new insight and data. Think of your strategy as a working, living document that can and should continue to improve, even mid-campaign, as necessary. 

Ready to meet the moment with smart CSR?

Submittable’s social impact platform can help you manage initiatives and amplify impact, easily.

As an example, the events of 2020 forced businesses to reconsider their existing CSR programs. Many companies chose to pivot in response to COVID-19 and movements for racial justice. The publicity around these shifts, including critiques of hollow brand statements , underscored the importance for socially responsible companies of clearly linking action (via CSR) to rhetoric.  

According to Mark Horowitz, CEO of Moving Worlds, global events have resulted in a tipping point for CSR , wherein business leaders are making bigger promises without changing operations to support their proposals. More than ever, he argues, companies must respond to the moment and take real action: “The next 10 months will define the CSR space for the next 10 years … CSR leaders within companies have the opportunity to right the position of corporations in society.” 

While it’s vital to stay responsive, be wary of altering key goals and measurement tactics before you’ve had time to accurately assess them. Not only do you open your company up to critique for empty promises, but change doesn’t happen overnight and long-term objectives require longer-term measurement. 

As Neil Buddy Shah, Managing Director at GiveWell, shared in a recent panel on impact data , you risk good ideas failing when organizations run an impact evaluation that is too rigorous too early.

Time for action: Bring your CSR strategy to life

A thoughtful CSR strategy requires time, thought, and teamwork to build. Make the best use of your efforts with tools that help transform your vision into action and results, faster.

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Strategic corporate social responsibility.

What is strategic corporate social responsibility and how can I make it part of my organization’s strategic plan? Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR , is defined by Stanford University’s Graduate School of business as the following:

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an organization’s obligation to consider the interests of their customers, employees, shareholders, communities, and the ecology and to consider the social and environmental consequences of their business activities. By integrating CSR into core business processes and stakeholder management, organizations can achieve the ultimate goal of creating both social value and corporate value.

As of late, CSR has gained noteriety as businesses have responded to two major changes in the last 5-10 years: the increase of public concern over the enviornemnt and the free flow of information afforded by the internet.

In the last several years, movies like An Inconvienient Truth and events such as Live Aid and Earth Day have brought climate change and protection of the Earth’s enviorment into the forefront of people’s minds. As stakeholders in any organization’s strategic plan, the public represents shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers- everyone. Whatever issues that the public sees as important, organizations should take notice of. An organizstion seen as harmful to the enviornment is very likely to be seen as socially irresponsible, and therefore risks the relationship with all of its stakeholders.

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Another trend increasing the importance of CSR is the increased use of the internet to access and trade information. Whereas in the past, the details of a company’s actions may have been restricted to newspaper clippings from the business section or academic discussions in the classrooms of business schools, these days any company seen being socially irresponsible may show up in mass emailings, facebook postings or even myspace bullitens- seen by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people in a day. Today, more than ever, companies are under the watchful eye of their stakeholders.

So what is Strategic Corporate Social Responsibility? By taking a strategic approach, companies can determine what activities they have the resources to devote to being socially responsible and can choose that which will strengthen their competitive advantage. By planning out CSR as part of a company’s over all plan, organizations can ensure that profits and increasing shareholder value don’t overshadow the need to behave ethically to their stakeholders.

  • Strategic CSR provides companies with solutions for:
  • Balancing the creating of economic value with that of societal value
  • How to manage their stakeholder relationships (especially those with competing values)
  • Identifying and responding to threats and opportunities facing their stakeholders
  • Developing sustainable business practices
  • Deciding the organization’s capacity for philanthropic activities

Does your organization employ Strategic CSR? If you would like to incorporate CSR into your strategic plan, feel free to check out more of our resources library, and if you need any help please let us know.

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Thanks alot for the insight I have gained alot from your approach to CSR. My interest is on how to prepare an annual CSR plan for a state corporation that is not necessarily for profit making, just provision of public services such as water.

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Thank you for the article. I have to propose a CSR plan for a fictive company during my studies. Could you maybe help me with how to start a CSR plan from scratch? I would reall appreciate your response. Regards, Alexandra

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The CSR strategy should encompass both an internal and external focus. I’ve worked with several companies on this so feel free to email me to chat!

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Small, informative and thought out article. Thanks

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Very true. I’m a publicity consultant and I have experienced this.

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strategy plan for csr for a financial company

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How does the CSR influence company’s strategic plan?

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plan for corporate social responsibility

Illustration of a cityscape and the environment coexisting

Published: 22 December 2023 Contributors: Amanda McGrath, Alexandra Jonker

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the idea that businesses should operate according to principles and policies that make a positive impact on society and the environment.

Through CSR, companies make decisions driven by financial gain and profitability, and the impact of their actions on their communities and the world at large. CSR goes beyond legal obligations: by voluntarily adopting ethical, sustainable and responsible business practices, companies seek to deliver benefits to consumers, shareholders, employees and society.

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Often, a company’s business model and practices are built around financial goals. However, CSR programs encourage business leaders to consider corporate citizenship or the larger impact of the business on society when making decisions. Corporate social responsibility helps companies ensure that their operations are ethical, safe and delivering positive impact wherever possible. Through CSR initiatives, companies work to limit environmental impact, contribute to solving societal problems (such as poverty and inequality) and ensure their brand identity reflects their values.

The theory of the “ triple bottom line ” can help organizations as they pursue corporate social responsibility. As a financial framework, the triple bottom line refers to the idea that a company’s business model should revolve around the three P’s: people, planet and profit. By maximizing all three, a company aims to make a positive impact on the world and remove barriers to growth.

Corporate social responsibility initiatives generally fall into four categories: environmental, ethical, philanthropic and economic. Each type of CSR contributes to a company’s overall CSR strategy.

More companies are assessing their overall environmental impact and engaging in CSR efforts that aim to protect natural resources and minimize any contribution to climate change. CSR encourages sustainability in business through eco-friendly practices, such as by reducing energy consumption, using renewable resources and minimizing waste.

Environmental responsibility hinges on eliminating negative impacts of business operations (primarily through limiting pollution-causing activities) as well as offsetting them through actions such as planting trees and engaging in programs that support biodiversity.

CSR initiatives often focus on social impact and human rights concerns, such as ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions and proper treatment of employees and suppliers. They also encourage accountability both internally and externally. Ethical CSR may include abiding by fair labor practices, ending workplace discrimination and ensuring supply chain transparency.

CSR practices include donating money, resources or time to positive causes and organizations, such as local and national charities, educational programs, disaster relief and more. Businesses who adopt philanthropic CSR engage with the communities where they operate, offering support through volunteer work, sponsoring local events, making contributions to local nonprofits or supporting skills training programs.

Corporate social responsibility involves ensuring that money is not a company’s sole motivator. To demonstrate this, companies enact policies and procedures to make sure their choices align with values, even if the alternatives may save money or boost profitability. Economic CSR also includes efforts to support the economic development and growth of the communities in which a business operates—for example, supporting job training and job creation efforts and forging local partnerships.

The benefits of CSR include:

CSR can have a positive impact on an organization’s brand identity as well as its bottom line. Some CSR efforts, such as improving energy efficiency, can reduce operating costs and might lead to savings in the end. Consumers increasingly prefer brands that share their values, and CSR policies offer ways for organizations to demonstrate those values, building trust and loyalty to fuel a competitive advantage.

CSR can also help attract top talent and drive employee engagement and retention, as more workers seek employers whose values align with their own. Additionally, a proactive approach to ethical and social issues has the potential to prevent legal problems, fines and reputational damage.

CSR initiatives can help people become more responsible consumers, making it easier for them to access products and services that align with their values and educating them on issues of sustainability and ethical consumption. It can encourage companies to prioritize and invest in testing, quality control and safety measures. CSR can also minimize the likelihood of defective or harmful products reaching consumers.

CSR can have a positive impact on the overall health of the planet, as it encourages environmental responsibility and sustainable practices. CSR initiatives can help companies reduce their greenhouse gas emissions or pursue net-zero emissions goals that are key to slowing climate change. They might also help conserve natural resources, reduce pollution and limit disruption of ecosystems. Additionally, a focus on CSR can support investment in research and development of eco-friendly products and practices.

Corporate social responsibility can help support local communities and address societal issues, such as poverty, inequality and environmental concerns. CSR initiatives can fuel economic growth by creating jobs. They can also shape public opinion as companies leading the way inspire others to follow suit, creating a positive ripple effect. A focus on ethical behavior at the corporate level reinforces a broader norm of ethical behavior across other parts of society.

Consumers are increasingly seeking products and services from socially responsible companies. Meanwhile, many investors are prioritizing companies whose values are clear and aligned with their own. To meet these demands, businesses are integrating CSR into their operations. In addition, global expansion and the increasingly interconnected nature of supply chains pushes companies to comply with a growing web of regulatory environments and to better confront the impact of their business on communities around the world.

With increased awareness of environmental issues, labor practices and ethical concerns, combined with better research and communication, CSR is now more central to business strategies. Some companies even have dedicated CSR departments.

Examples of CSR include:

  • Donating a percentage of profits to environmental or social causes
  • Committing to using recycled and eco-friendly materials
  • Sourcing fair-trade materials and ingredients
  • Engaging in social activism or fundraising on behalf of social causes
  • Using technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) to drive energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprints
  • Creating programs for the ethical use and disposal of products, such as electronics recycling programs
  • Instituting diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs that support efforts to diversify and grow the workforce in new ways
  • Supporting programs that replenish the natural resources, such as water or timber, used for production
  • Turning to renewable energy sources and other strategies that help in the pursuit of net-zero or carbon-neutral goals
  • Establishing employee well-being programs that support their physical and mental health

Corporate social responsibility is the overall ethos that drives a company to adopt policies and practices that support sustainability, societal and other ethical ends. Environmental, social and governance (ESG) is about the ways in which their impact is measured or quantified. While both CSR and ESG are about reflecting the company’s values, CSR is typically seen as more of an internal framework, while ESG frameworks are often used externally as a way of demonstrating real-world impact.

Because the parameters of corporate social responsibility are continually evolving, there is no single standard by which CSR initiatives are measured or governed. Companies that embrace CSR are guided by local and international laws, including environmental regulations, labor rules and consumer protection standards.

Some efforts are also held to industry-specific standards; for example, the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) provides reporting standards for sustainability. Organizations like the United Nations have introduced global guidance, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which encourage businesses to adopt sustainable practices.

Many companies that embrace CSR will also engage in CSR reporting , through which they document performance of non-financial metrics and provide transparency on social and environmental impact. CSR reporting is typically voluntary; however, some jurisdictions mandate that large organizations disclose social and environmental performance, so that investors and consumers can assess CSR efforts.

Some organizations have designated corporate social responsibility teams that oversee a company's CSR activities. People on these teams plan and run the social and environmental programs that align with the company's values and goals. They work with company leadership to devise the overall CSR strategy and engage stakeholders, including employees, customers, investors and community partners, to help them succeed. They also typically track and report on their progress by using metrics and other methods of assessment, deal with compliance and regulatory issues and manage communication about the company’s CSR efforts both internally and externally.

Simplify the capture, consolidation, management, analysis and reporting of your environmental, social and governance (ESG) data.

CSR reporting is the practice of reporting an organization’s performance of non-financial metrics, providing transparency on the organization’s impact on society and the environment.

Net zero is the point at which greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere are balanced by an equivalent amount removed from the atmosphere.

The goal of the CRSD is to provide transparency that will help stakeholders better evaluate EU companies’ sustainability performance as well as the related business impacts and risks.

The triple bottom line (TBL) is a sustainability framework that revolves around the three P’s: people, planet and profit.

Sustainability in business refers to a company's strategy and actions to eliminate the adverse environmental and social impacts caused by business operations.

Decarbonization is a method of climate change mitigation that reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, as well as removes them from the atmosphere.

Simplify the capture, consolidation, management, analysis and reporting of your environmental, social and governance (ESG) data with IBM Envizi ESG Suite.

Making the most of corporate social responsibility

Too often, executives have viewed corporate social responsibility (CSR) as just another source of pressure or passing fad. But as customers, employees, and suppliers—and, indeed, society more broadly—place increasing importance on CSR, some leaders have started to look at it as a creative opportunity to fundamentally strengthen their businesses while contributing to society at the same time. They view CSR as central to their overall strategies, helping them to creatively address key business issues.

The big challenge for executives is how to develop an approach that can truly deliver on these lofty ambitions—and, as of yet, few have found the way. However, some innovative companies have managed to overcome this hurdle, with smart partnering emerging as one way to create value for both the business and society simultaneously. Smart partnering focuses on key areas of impact between business and society and develops creative solutions that draw on the complementary capabilities of both to address major challenges that affect each partner. In this article, we build on lessons from smart partnering to provide a practical way forward for leaders to assess the true opportunities of CSR.

Mapping the CSR space

There is no single accepted definition of CSR, which leads to plenty of confusion about what constitutes a CSR activity. We can begin to develop a working definition of CSR by thinking about its dual objectives—benefiting business and society—and the range of potential benefits in each case (Exhibit 1).

Corporate social responsibility: The landscape

Many businesses pursue CSR activities that can best be termed pet projects, as they reflect the personal interests of individual senior executives. While these activities may be presented with much noise and fanfare, they usually offer minimal benefits to either business or society. In the middle are efforts that can make both sides feel good but that generate limited and often one-sided benefits. With philanthropy, for example, corporate donations confer the majority of benefits on society (with potential but often questionable reputational benefits to the business). Similarly, in what’s best referred to as propaganda, CSR activities are focused primarily on building a company’s reputation with little real benefit to society. Some cynics suggest that this form of CSR is at best a form of advertising—and potentially dangerous if it exposes a gap between the company’s words and actions.

None of these approaches realize the opportunities for significant shared value creation that have been achieved through smart partnering. In such ventures, the focus of the business moves beyond avoiding risks or enhancing reputation and toward improving its core value creation ability by addressing major strategic issues or challenges. For society, the focus shifts from maintaining minimum standards or seeking funding to improving employment, the overall quality of life, and living standards. The key is for each party to tap into the resources and expertise of the other, finding creative solutions to critical social and businesses challenges.

Addressing rural distribution challenges in India

More than 70 percent of India’s population resides in rural villages scattered over large geographic areas with very low per capita consumption rates. For multinationals, the cost of reaching and serving these rural markets is significant, as typical urban distribution approaches do not work. Hindustan Unilever Limited’s Project Shakti overcame these challenges by actively understanding critical societal and organizational needs. HUL partnered with three self-help groups, whose members were appointed as Shakti entrepreneurs in chosen villages. These entrepreneurs were women, since a key aim for the partnership was to help the rural female population develop independence and self-esteem. The entrepreneurs received extensive training and borrowed money from their self-help groups to purchase HUL products, which they then sold in their villages. By 2008, Shakti provided employment for 42,000 women entrepreneurs covering nearly 130,000 villages and 3 million households every month. In the same year, HUL sales through the project approached $100 million. Dalip Sehgal, then executive director of New Ventures at HUL, noted: “Shakti is a quintessential win-win initiative and overcame challenges on a number of fronts. It is a sales and distribution initiative that delivers growth, a communication initiative that builds brands, a micro-enterprise initiative that creates livelihoods, a social initiative that improves the standard of life, and catalyzes affluence in rural India. What makes Shakti uniquely scalable and sustainable is the fact that it contributes not only to HUL but also to the community it is a part of.” 1 1. V. Kasturi Rangan and Rohithari Rajan, “Unilever in India: Hindustan Lever’s Project Shakti,” Harvard Business School case 9-505-056, June 27, 2007.

So how does this work? The examples in the two accompanying sidebars (see “Addressing rural distribution challenges in India” and “Ensuring sustainable supplies of critical raw materials”) illustrate smart partnering initiatives at Unilever. Both address long-term strategic challenges facing the company and help to build creative partnerships that accrue significant benefits to both sides.

Initial questions for any leader should be, “Where have you focused CSR activities in the past?” and, more important, “Where should you focus them for the future?” All organizations have to balance limited resources and effort, so the challenge is how best to deploy yours to maximize the benefits to your business (and your shareholders and stakeholders), as well as to society. Start by mapping your current portfolio of CSR initiatives on the framework shown in Exhibit 1 and ask: What are the objectives of our current initiatives? What benefits are being created, and who realizes these? Which of these initiatives helps us to address our key strategic challenges and opportunities?

Ensuring sustainable supplies of critical raw materials

Unilever’s Lipton unit is the world’s largest buyer of tea. In 1999, Unilever Tea Kenya started a pilot program in Kericho, in southwestern Kenya, to apply company sustainability principles to the production of tea. The initiative focused on improving productivity, sustainability, and environmental management, as well as energy and habitat conservation. For Unilever, growing pressure on natural resources means that securing high-quality supplies of critical raw materials in the long term is of paramount strategic importance.

The Kericho initiative had a direct impact on the company’s ability to control the supply of tea not just today but also into the future, while simultaneously enhancing Unilever’s corporate reputation with both consumers and employees. Company leadership felt that higher short-term costs were far outweighed by the long-term strategic edge Unilever gained for its raw-materials supplies and brands. In 2008, as a signal of its commitment, Unilever expanded the scope of its sustainable-agriculture program, pursuing certification from the Rainforest Alliance for all Lipton tea farms by 2015.

For society, the initiative increased farmer revenue through a 10 to 15 percent premium paid above market prices. Additionally, it focused on topics of significant concern for governments and farmers alike, including improving farmer skills, environmental protection, and sustainable production methods (such as developing a self-sufficient ecosystem), as well as enhancing local associated jobs. All these factors contributed to strengthened rural income, skills, and living standards.

Focusing CSR choices: Guiding principles

Companies are likely to have activities scattered across the map, but that’s not where they have to stay—nor is it how the benefits of CSR are maximized. Many companies start with pet projects, philanthropy, or propaganda because these activities are quick and easy to decide on and implement. The question is how to move toward CSR strategies that focus on truly cocreating value for the business and society. The accompanying examples suggest three principles for moving toward this goal.

  • Concentrate your CSR efforts. Management time and resources are limited, so the greatest opportunities will come from areas where the business significantly interacts with—and thus can have the greatest impact on—society. These are areas where the business not only can gain a deeper understanding of the mutual dependencies but also in which the highest potential for mutual benefit exists.
  • Build a deep understanding of the benefits. Even after selecting your chosen areas of opportunity, finding the potential for mutual value creation is not always straightforward. The key is finding symmetry between the two sides and being open enough to understand issues both from a business and a societal perspective.
  • Find the right partners. These will be those that benefit from your core business activities and capabilities—and that you can benefit from in turn. Partnering is difficult, but when both sides see win–win potential there is greater motivation to realize the substantial benefits. Relationships—particularly long-term ones that are built on a realistic understanding of the true strengths on both sides—have a greater opportunity of being successful and sustainable.

Applying these principles to choosing the appropriate CSR opportunities prompts additional questions—namely: What are the one or two critical areas in our business where we interface with and have an impact on society and where significant opportunities exist for both sides if we can creatively adjust the relationship? What are the core long-term needs for us and for society that can be addressed as a result? What resources or capabilities do we need, and what do we have to offer in realizing the opportunities?

Building the business case

In smart partnering, mutual benefit is not only a reasonable objective, it is also required to ensure long-term success. But this commitment must be grounded in value-creation potential, just like any other strategic initiative. Each is an investment that should be evaluated with the same rigor in prioritization, planning, resourcing, and monitoring.

Now you need to define the array of potential benefits for both the business and for society. This will not always be easy, but a clear business case and story is important if you are to get the company, its shareholders, and its stakeholders on board.

You can assess the benefits across the following three dimensions:

  • Time frame. Be clear on both the short-term immediate objectives and the long-term benefits. In smart partnering, the time frame is important, as initiatives can be complex and take time to realize their full potential.
  • Nature of benefits. Some benefits will be tangible, such as revenue from gaining access to a new market. Others will be equally significant, but intangible, such as developing a new capability or enhancing employee morale.
  • Benefit split. Be clear about how benefits are to be shared between the business and society. If they are one-sided, be careful you are not moving into the philanthropy or propaganda arena. Remember that if the aim is to create more value from partnering than you could do apart, then benefits must be shared appropriately.

Exhibit 2 outlines two contrasting benefit arrays for the Unilever examples discussed in the accompanying sidebars. With Project Shakti, the short-term tangible benefits are extremely clear and powerful, while in the case of Kericho the long-term intangible benefits are strategically critical for both the business and the communities in which it operates. Remember that it is not essential to have benefits in every section of the matrix. However, if you are struggling with any of the dimensions—for example, there are no long-term or tangible benefits or if most of the benefits are one-sided—go back and ask if this is a real partnering opportunity where significant mutual value creation is possible.

Plotting the benefits

As you develop a clear array of benefits, a business case, and a story to communicate to all stakeholders, ask: Do we have a clear understanding of the entire array of benefits and the associated business case, on which we can focus, assess, and manage the potential CSR activity? Does the activity focus on fundamental value creation opportunities where we can really partner with society to realize simultaneous benefits? Are the opportunities significant, scalable, and supportive of our overall strategic priorities?

Implementing CSR with consistency and determination

Partnering, as we all know, can be challenging. It requires planning and hard work to assess potential mutual benefits, establish trust, and build and manage the activities, internally as well as externally. But is it worth it? Companies at the forefront of such partnering suggest the answer is a resounding yes, but an additional two principles need to be followed to ensure success:

Go in with a long-term commitment. Having a positive impact on societal issues such as living standards is not a “quick fix” project. Leaders who want to partner therefore need to have a long-term mind-set backed up by solid promises and measurable commitments and actions. Your initiative must demonstrate added value to both shareholders and stakeholders over time.

Engage the entire workforce and lead by example. Your workforce can be one of your greatest assets and beneficiaries when it comes to CSR activities. Increasingly, employees are choosing to work for organizations whose values resonate with their own. Attracting and retaining talent will be a growing challenge in the future, so activities that build on core values and inspire employees are key. Unilever, along with other leaders in smart partnering, actively engages its employees in such initiatives, seeing improved motivation, loyalty, and ability to attract and retain talent as a result. Engaging the workforce starts at the top. Leaders must be prepared to make a personal commitment if the activities are to realize their full potential.

This is the tough bit of the process: taking action, rather than speaking about it, and keeping up the momentum even when targets are far in the future. As you plan the implementation of your chosen initiatives and follow through, ask: Can we build the commitment we need across the organization to make this happen—and are we as leaders willing to lead by example? Have we planned effectively to ensure that implementation is successful, with resources, milestones, measurement, and accountability? How can we manage the initiative, focusing on the total array of benefits sought, not just the short-term financials?

What’s a leader to do?

When it comes to CSR, there are no easy answers on what to do or how to do it. A company’s interactions and interdependencies with society are many and complex. However, it is clear that approaching CSR as a feel-good or quick-fix exercise runs the risk of missing huge opportunities for both the business and society. Taking a step-by-step approach and following the principles outlined here offers leaders a way to identify and drive mutual value creation. But it will demand a shift in mind-set: the smart partnering view is that CSR is about doing good business and creatively addressing significant issues that face business and society, not simply feeling good. And smart partnering is not for the faint of heart. It requires greater focus, work, and long-term commitment than do many standard CSR pet projects, philanthropic activities, and propaganda campaigns, but the rewards are potentially much greater for both sides.

Continuing the conversation—Authors’ response to reader comments

In January 2010, the authors reviewed our readers’ comments on their original article and weighed in on the conversation with new insights and suggestions.

Many thanks to those who read and considered the ideas in our article “Making the most of corporate social responsibility”—and particularly to those who shared their thoughts and experiences on smart partnering. As many rightly pointed out, there has been a groundswell of interest in CSR, as well as a growing number of powerful examples of smart partnering. This momentum reflects an improved understanding of the potential benefits to companies and the increasing maturity of social organizations. Both see the potential for mutually creating value.

Our aim was to advance the debate on how to make CSR an integral part of core strategic thinking rather than a feel-good add-on to it. Where should we take this conversation? Many of the responses came from academics or from executives responsible for CSR activities in their firms. While this is natural, it raises the question of how best to engage (or help these executives to engage) senior business leaders who make strategic choices and set the direction of companies—particularly the next generation of leaders, who face more pressing global and societal issues than ever before.

Three challenges

Our work, that of others in this field, and the input of McKinsey Quarterly readers suggest that there are three basic challenges to making smart partnering a strategic imperative and opportunity for companies. They also suggest ways to overcome those challenges.

1. Get CSR on the strategy table

For CSR to achieve its potential, it must focus on key areas of interaction between a firm and its environment and address value creation activities at the center of the strategic agenda. The challenge is to get innovative CSR thinking on the table when business strategies are being explored and decided. How can we make CSR approaches an integral part of the strategic toolbox for business unit leaders?

First, the potential benefits of CSR, notably smart partnering, need to be demonstrated in practice if mainstream senior business leaders are to recognize the significant opportunities it offers. That is why sharing your and our examples is so important. Next, key CSR executives must be part of core strategy processes. Ultimately, CSR must cease to be a separate function and become part of the skill set of all business leaders as an innovative way to solve critical problems.

2. Stretch your strategic ambition for CSR

Several readers spoke of favorably received CSR activities within their organizations in the realms of philanthropy and partnering. As we suggested, the starting point in any CSR strategy should be to outline the CSR activities a company already undertakes and to be clear on their intent and fit within the overall portfolio. Where CSR activities are primarily philanthropic in nature, they can create a strong base for building a company’s reputation and engaging employees. Philanthropy also has other obvious advantages: it is relatively easy to undertake, can often be set off against tax, and requires less effort and commitment across the organization.

The questions with this approach are: What benefits are being left on the table, both for society and the business? What opportunities are being missed? The challenge is to stretch strategic ambitions for CSR and to move actively toward smart partnering, where the biggest opportunities are to be found. Stretching means going beyond common practice. While it is extremely encouraging to see a growing recognition of the benefits of CSR for building employee engagement, this is only the tip of the iceberg. In the examples we described, the benefits matrices set out much broader ambitions and arrays of benefits (short and long term, tangible and intangible) for both society and core business strategies. How can you stretch your company’s ambitions in a similar way? Whom do you need to involve, particularly among mainstream business leaders, to gain new perspectives and challenge conventional wisdom?

3. Reinforce your core values, internally and externally

When corporate visions and strategies are described, there is often a reference to core values, which shape individual behavior and expectations about how we work and interact together. But we often limit discussions about values to internal behavior and actions. As several readers noted, shouldn’t senior executives also be held accountable for how companies live core values in their interactions with all stakeholders?

Businesses have an impact on societies, and vice versa, so there is a need to recognize the mutual responsibilities that this entails. Within societies, trust in businesses is low, public scrutiny of firms is constant, customer choice criteria include the reputations and values of suppliers, and the next generation of leaders will choose employers whose values match their own. For businesses, one potential challenge is whether the way they operate externally—not just internally—will ultimately have an impact on their “license to operate.” Many companies that approach CSR strategically recognize this symbiosis and build on strong values, living them internally and externally.

Clearly, we do not advocate smart-partnering initiatives solely because they reinforce a company’s core values; this is heading into the realm of propaganda. But as you consider the benefits of a potential initiative, do explicitly consider its impact on your corporate values. If you cannot see a direct link to them, think about how you could create one—for example, reinforcing values through employee involvement or building additional external relationships based on the initiative.

Moving forward

What’s your next step? First, engage with key senior business leaders to identify two or three critical interactions with society. Then for each, map out what you have to offer in capabilities, knowledge, resources, relationships, and so on that would make a difference in addressing the challenges you have identified, both for your business and society. Consider what ideal partners could offer to complement the things you bring to these challenges. For the Unilever–Kericho example in our original article, a critical interaction with society involved raw materials (in particular, tea). Mapping the possible complementary strengths of a partnership could produce a kind of balance sheet.

Use the balance sheets you have developed as a starting point in identifying issues and discussing them with key internal stakeholders and potential external partners. In a world of burgeoning technology, we may even one day see some type of CSR “dating agency” where potential partners could share their balance sheets. As discussions progress, a balance sheet can also help you and your partners construct the benefits array and business case for your smart-partnering initiative.

In this sort of process, experienced CSR executives can really start to move CSR onto the strategic agenda by engaging executives on real business challenges. That means helping these executives to identify the opportunities, share concrete examples, think more broadly about solutions, and move forward.

Smart partnering is good business. Our readers’ experiences and ideas confirm that momentum is building toward a time when CSR will be absorbed into core strategy and business activities rather than treated as an orphan in need of a special label. With your help, this momentum will build. Share your experiences, shape your activity portfolios, develop your balance sheets and benefits matrices, and challenge the business community to keep changing mind-sets for the better.

Thomas Malnight is a professor of strategy and general management at the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Tracey Keys is a program manager. Kees van der Graaf is Executive-in-Residence at IMD, following his retirement from the board of Unilever, where he was also president of the European business.

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Start » strategy, what is corporate social responsibility .

Everything you need to know about corporate social responsibility (CSR) and how to incorporate it into your business plan.

 A group of people wearing light blue shirts and lanyards are boxing donations. One volunteer makes notes on a clipboard while another holds soup cans to be boxed. In the background, two more people look through a rack of clothes.

Businesses that practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) aim to improve society in some way. But how can companies that are new to this concept begin to embrace CSR?

[ Read more: 5 Steps to Becoming a Socially Responsible Business ]

What is corporate social responsibility?

Corporate social responsibility refers to a business’s efforts to make a positive environmental or social impact. This can be an occasional activity or part of a more comprehensive initiative. By implementing a CSR program, businesses become aware of the positive impact they can have on society.

There is no one way to practice corporate social responsibility, but many companies focus on initiatives that benefit the environment, the community or the economy. Here are a few examples of CSR programs you can try:

  • Creating a job-training program for disenfranchised groups.
  • Finding ways to reduce your carbon footprint.
  • Giving back to local nonprofits.
  • Volunteering in the community.
  • Implementing company policies that benefit the environment.
  • Committing to diversity in the workplace.

Benefits of CSR

You could argue that a company should implement a CSR program for its own sake. But research has shown that these programs have a positive on the business, its employees and its customers.

A report from Babson College found that a strong CSR program can increase market value by up to 6%. Companies can reduce systemic risk by up to 4% and minimize employee turnover by up to 50%.

Plus, practicing corporate social responsibility helps businesses build their brands and reputations and position themselves more competitively while creating more meaningful relationships with their customers.

But most importantly, corporate social responsibility is one of the best ways to give back to society. It allows businesses to be part of the solution to everyday challenges.

Implementing a CSR program can have a significant impact on your business and the community.

3 main types of CSR

Let’s look at the main types of corporate social responsibility and how you can begin to implement these practices in your own business.


Your business can implement a CSR program that focuses on environmental leadership. For instance, you can look for opportunities to recycle your products or use environmentally friendly packaging.

You can also donate to environmental causes you find meaningful. Any steps your business takes to improve the environment will help your company and society as a whole.

[ Read more: Brand Partnership Creates New Growth Opportunities for Bottle Maker S’Well ]

Your business can also focus on the fair and ethical treatment of your employees. For instance, you can provide competitive employee salaries and health benefits. Companies can also offer generous employee benefits, like tuition reimbursement or parental leave.


By focusing on corporate philanthropy, you’re putting the well-being of others first. For instance, you can donate time, money and resources to important causes. You could also support a local nonprofit or charity that’s doing meaningful work in the community.

Another good option is to offer to match employee contributions to eligible nonprofits. This can help create a community of people giving back in your business.

[ Read more: Chobani Goes Beyond Dairy and Yogurt Into Plant-Based Foods ]

How to start a CSR program

Implementing a CSR program can have a significant impact on your business and the community. Here are four ways you can launch your program:

  • Do your research: Research is the first step to any CSR program. Before you can execute your ideas, you need to understand your business’s capacity and you should spend some time identifying a need in your community. Look for ways to tie those needs in with your values and skills.
  • Get feedback from employees: Your employees must support any CSR program that you implement. The best way to ensure this happens is by asking for their feedback. What kinds of causes are meaningful to them?
  • Implement a clear strategy: Once you’ve decided on your program's focus, you need to outline a clear plan for how to make it happen. Be as detailed as you can about how the timeline, how you’ll carry out your program and your desired impact.
  • Measure the impact: Finally, it’s essential to measure your CSR program's impact periodically. This will help you identify whether your plan is working and how you should adjust your overall strategy. Plus, measuring your program's impact is a great way to stay accountable to your employees and any external stakeholders.

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What is corporate social responsibility?

  • Benefits of corporate social responsibility
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  • Types of corporate social responsibility
  • Developing a CSR strategy
  • How to take your CSR program global
  • How to measure impact of your CSR program
  • How to start a career in CSR

The Ultimate Guide to Corporate Social Responsibility

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a model that businesses originally used to ensure they were making an impact in their communities. Now, it’s evolved to also include their social accountability to employees, customers, stakeholders and members of the public.

In this post, we’ll explore the ins and outs of CSR, including its history, the different types of CSR and its benefits. We’ll wrap up with FAQs.

This article will help you to determine a CSR strategy that fits with your business, while equipping you with the knowledge you’ll need to win internal support and — ultimately — help your people spread more Goodness.

CSR encompasses the ways businesses are responsible corporate citizens to their shareholders, employees, customers, communities and society at large.

Through CSR initiatives, companies focus on profit, people and the planet — the so-called triple bottom line.

They consider the economic, social and environmental aspects of their business.  

Think of CSR as an internal and external commitment a company makes to both profit and purpose. It’s a way to showcase how and why their values are ingrained in what they do.

When executed well, CSR can enhance how a business is viewed and approached, helping to share a company’s broader mission with the world.    

CSR typically includes: 

Community investment or granting.

Employee giving and volunteering

Diversity, equity and inclusion

CSR increasingly includes:

Customer engagement/giving

Public engagement/giving

Positive actions

Small Acts of Goodness (e.g., tracking volunteer time, creating a giving opportunity)

For more on what CSR is and why it’s important , check out this episode of The Social Impact Show by Benevity.

The history of CSR

Socially responsible organizations can be traced to the mid-to-late 1800s .

Philanthropy was on the rise at a time when many factory employees faced poor working conditions. This led some businesses to reconsider their production models.  

Corporate responsibility gained traction in the early 1950s after American economist Howard Bowen published the book Social Responsibilities of the Businessman .

As companies considered their responsibility to society and looked after their people and the communities they operated in, they saw brand benefits.  

A big step toward popularizing CSR came in the 1970s when an American organization, the Committee for Economic Development, formed a social contract between business and society.  

Jump forward a few more decades, and academics began to write more heavily on corporate responsibility, outlining ways for businesses to be more conscious of their people and the environment.

Today, CSR is considered a must-have strategy for every business.

It provides many benefits, including enhancing company image, business growth and corporate purpose.   

What’s the difference between corporate social responsibility and environmental, social and governance (ESG)?

CSR and ESG are different but overlapping concepts, both addressing the idea a company should play a positive role when it comes to ethics, sustainability and social impact.  

CSR involves a broad scope of strategies and initiatives that engage a company’s workforce, customers, the community and society as a whole in positive impact initiatives.

A CSR program’s success can be measured in different ways ; there is no standardized system.   

ESG (environmental, social and governance) involves quantitative metrics that determine if a company’s CSR initiatives are on track and successful. ESG is less broad than CSR and has specific goals, such as reporting to investors. Businesses can build their ESG profile through their CSR program .

Take a company with a CSR initiative to reduce single-use plastics in the workplace. ESG criteria could include cutting down single-use plastics by 50% in one year and aiming to have 80% of the workforce going plastic-free.  

Why is CSR important?

Employees today want to do more than work for a company; they want to work with a company and for a larger purpose. A strong CSR or corporate purpose program is closely connected to a company’s ability to attract and retain the best talent .

Young people are especially aware of their environmental impact and social responsibility, with 74% of Gen Z employees believing work should contribute more to their lives than a paycheck. Advocates like Greta Thunberg and Lauren Singer have brought more attention to eco-anxiety and the importance of socially responsible behavior.

CSR helps our planet, and it also brings economic benefits. Corporate responsibility initiatives increase employee engagement, with research showing companies with higher levels of engagement are 22% more productive and can create 50% higher revenue per employee.  

For more on why CSR is important , watch here:

Different types of corporate social responsibility initiatives

The term CSR is broad, and no two CSR programs are going to be the same. CSR can be as extensive as a comprehensive giving, volunteering, granting and customer engagement program that runs all year, or as simple as an annual fundraising campaign.  

The focus of a CSR program is influenced by the issues or causes your company has decided it wants to solve for or your people are passionate about.

Programs can address different areas, such as:

  • Increasing social responsibility.
  • Eradicating child labor.
  • Creating free educational services.
  • Initiating fair trade practices in supply chains.
  • Promoting environmental responsibility.
  • Sponsoring local events.
  • Using sustainable resources.
  • Minimizing the environmental impact of business travel.

These are just a few areas a CSR program can encompass.

Learn more about the types of CSR , and how to choose the right one, on this episode of The Social Impact Show:

Let’s explore what these programs look like.

Employee volunteering programs

Volunteering programs include online  and offline activities for teams or individuals.

Volunteering promotes corporate citizenship and governance, and it can be a gateway to increased workplace giving participation.  

Corporate giving programs

Also known as corporate philanthropy, corporate giving programs include donations of cash, services or goods.

They can also include setting up corporate foundations, and they often perform best if the cause is close to the business mission or a team member.

Sustainability initiatives

This type of CSR involves a business running as environmentally consciously as possible, from finding a plastic-free goods supply chain to offering meat-free lunches and a recycling program.

Employee well-being, diversity and inclusion

CSR is about looking after communities, including a company’s own people.

By improving the employee experience, you’ll affect customers’ perspectives on the company, talent retention and even the bottom line .  

Employee well-being includes physical, mental, financial, and social and community well-being.  

  Physical well-being focuses on your people’s physical health; think offering yoga, gym classes or even bicycles for office commutes.

Mental well-being covers mental health awareness, access to psychologists and health care, counseling and meditation.

Financial well-being activities include tuition assistance, financial planning advice and home office stipends.

Social and community well-being can be built through staff retreats, meet-ups, a book club or other activities that foster genuine connections among team members and build a sense of belonging.    

Community investment or granting programs make a positive impact on the communities your company serves.

These programs are a powerful expression of your corporate purpose, showing your people, consumers and investors that you care.    

Customer engagement

CSR increasingly includes customer engagement/giving . This takes various forms, including donation round-ups, loyalty programs, relief campaigns and dedicated giving sites.

Customer giving can even be a sustainable alternative to swag. Simply provide digital or printed charitable gift cards that support a specific nonprofit or let the recipient choose their own cause.

When you make giving part of your brand experience, you empower your customers to do good and you also build brand engagement and affinity.

Micro-actions are another option increasingly included in CSR programs.

Encouraging a variety of small actions in and out of the workplace — from cycling to work every day to going vegetarian for one week — drives big change.  

Small actions make it easy for all your people to participate, regardless of time, money, location or job type. Micro-actions are accessible, and they’re also a springboard for more engagement and giving back.

Examples of CSR programs

What does CSR look like for business? Watch these videos to see what three companies are doing.  

How Splunk’s first giving campaign turned a modest budget into major impact

How TC Energy used Missions to increase impact and engage more employees

How Intel used a 50th anniversary campaign to increase participation by 64%

Benefits of CSR initiatives

Csr increases employee engagement .

Extensive research proves that CSR and a strong sense of employee purpose actively contribute to increased employee engagement . That’s important because when a company has engaged employees , they see a 17% increase in productivity, are 21% more profitable and can have 41% lower absenteeism.  

CSR increases revenue

Companies investing in social purpose have a 6% higher market value and generate 20% more revenue than companies that don’t invest in social purpose, according to Project ROI .  

CSR supports local and global communities 

For all the fantastic benefits your business gets from showcasing your CSR initiatives, it can be easy to overlook its reason for being in the first place.

CSR gives people the leverage and the platform they need to make a difference in local and global communities.  

CSR increases investment opportunities

Today, global sustainable investment stands at over $30 trillion worldwide — up 68% since 2014 and 10x since 2004 .

Large investment firms are shifting toward sustainable investing and are using ESG to analyze companies and inform decisions.   

CSR presents press opportunities 

Research has shown that employee beliefs behind CSR initiatives can impact workplace attitudes, trust in top management, organization pride, job satisfaction and even performance.

Your employees are your biggest brand ambassadors — so, lead with authenticity, and authentic press opportunities can follow.  

CSR increases customer retention and loyalty 

Excellent CSR gives a company a chance to showcase consistency and win loyalty, which ultimately converts into customer retention and increased sales.

Research shows that 87% of Americans are more likely to buy a product from a company that they can align their values with, and over half of all consumers are willing to pay extra for a product if they’re buying from a company with a sturdy CSR strategy .  

CSR helps attract, retain and develop talent 

Corporate Responsibility magazine found that 75% of Americans would not take a job with a company with a poor corporate responsibility reputation.

@benevity How corporate purpose and #csr key to attract, hire and retain employees. #employeeengagement #corporatesocialresponsibility #greatresignation #racialjustice #diversityequityandinclusion #dei #corporateresponsibility ♬ Inspirational Music - AZOVMUSIC

Benevity’s own research shows that companies with CSR programs where their people are actively engaged in giving and volunteering saw a 57% reduction in turnover for those employees.

CSR helps nonprofits

Through CSR, nonprofits and businesses can create mutually beneficial relationships and strategic programs built on common goals, while simultaneously supporting issues they’re both looking to solve. Build a CSR program that gives employees choice over which nonprofits to support and your people will spread even more Goodness, as their donations and volunteer hours go to many different causes that mean something to them.  

6 crucial steps to designing your CSR program

1. decide on the purpose of your program.

Start by gathering a team who can help you brainstorm about the strategic focus of your program . You’ll need to understand what you’re solving for from a business perspective.

If you have an existing program, you can also look at where your people are giving or volunteering to see what they care about.

Once you’re in agreement on those priorities, you can move into exploring how you will bring these focus areas into the employee experience.  

Next, you can rank your focus areas and priorities so you can plan what kinds of initiatives or campaigns you can run over the next year based on what you expect will have the most impact.

Not sure where to start? Get the Benevity 2023 Goodness Calendar — it’s packed with 100+ cause-focused awareness dates for the whole year.

2. Circulate your ideas among your stakeholders

Once you have your priorities and focus areas figured out, you can start sharing them with your direct leadership, your partners on other teams and any other stakeholders who will be invested in the work you’ll be doing.

You’ll want their feedback and thoughts early so that you can adjust your focus areas appropriately — and get them excited about the programs you’ll launch!

3. Design and build your program (it’s OK to start small!) 

After getting the buy-in you need from your stakeholders , you can focus on implementing specific programs. These will look different for every company, but consider what yours could look like and carve out a budget.

Your programs could be centered on a goal, such as activating a certain number of employees around a social good initiative or a skills-based volunteering program.

You can also consider whether your strategic program will partner with an existing community organization or initiative. Or you can speak to your legal team about whether it’s the right move to set up a foundation.  

4. Launch your program

It’s time to share your program with your employees and other stakeholders! When you launch, you’ll want to communicate important information like:

  • Why your company is launching (or re-launching) its CSR program.
  • The different ways people can get involved.
  • How to log in to your program if you have a technology partner.

For ideas on how to improve and increase participation, check out The Social Impact Show’s discussion on the best employee engagement strategies.

5. Set benchmarks and measure your impact 

Maybe your goal is to engage 15% of your people in the first year. Or maybe your goal is to distribute three meaningful community grants.

The technology you use will give you the performance-tracking data you need to establish benchmarks for future years .

Watch this episode of The Social Impact Show to learn how to create benchmarks:

Monitoring your progress will provide you with numbers that will get your leadership excited about your CSR activities — ensuring they continue to give their support.  

6. Share that impact!

This is the time for storytelling to remind your people and your community of the good you’re doing and to spread more Goodness!

Internally, you could publish blog posts about campaign successes on your website, and you could post updates on social media or your instant messaging platform (such as Slack).

Your CSR team could present at your company’s all-hands meetings to show photos or videos of recent volunteering events, or they could share results from major campaigns like GivingTuesday.

The state of corporate purpose

The dramatic events of the past few years have changed us. Since our world was first turned upside down in 2020, we’ve seen a huge tilt toward corporations and their stakeholders taking action beyond their backyards, rallying around critical issues that matter for the global good.

Corporate purpose is no longer a nice-to-have — it’s business critical.

We took the time to analyze data from our platform to share what these corporate purpose trends mean for our clients in a groundbreaking report . Insights from our community reveal trends shaping the future of corporate purpose:  

  • In times of need, businesses are stepping up.
  • At the root of the Great Resignation is the Great Search for Purpose.
  • Employee-led action on diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging is changing corporate culture from the bottom up and the inside out.
  • The future of corporate philanthropy is stakeholder philanthropy.
  • ESG is how shareholders understand purpose.

Learn more about the top trends, data and stories from more than 850 companies shaping the future of corporate purpose.  

Corporate social responsibility FAQs

How can i measure corporate social responsibility (csr) success .

CSR can be measured the following ways:

  • Benchmark your results against competition or top performers.
  • Set calendar goals and key performance indicators (KPIs).
  • Measure the qualitative effect of a CSR campaign with an employee feedback loop.
  • Use digital tools and platforms to evaluate the success of your campaign.
  • Analyze other business variables: staff retention, audience size and sentiment.
  • Look to bottom-line financials and company value.

What are some KPIs to measure corporate social responsibility success? 

CSR business models typically incorporate the following KPIs:

  • Higher employee engagement rates.
  • Higher employee retention rates.
  • Increased online brand sentiment.
  • Lower customer churn rate.
  • Increased organic searches of your brand.
  • Increased employee satisfaction.

Who manages a corporate social responsibility program? 

Companies may have a specific CSR department, or they may rely on Human Resources teams or location-specific office managers.

CSR can also be a responsibility of the Marketing or Communications department, depending on what the business hopes to achieve.

What does a successful corporate social responsibility program look like? 

No two CSR programs are going to be the same, with identical components or pillars. To build a successful CSR program, decide on its purpose and then circulate your ideas among your stakeholders. Next, design and build your program — it’s OK to start small.

Then it’s time to launch your program, set benchmarks, measure your impact and, finally, share that impact.  

How does corporate social responsibility impact revenue? 

Companies investing in social purpose see a positive return on investment (ROI) for multiple reasons. Extensive research proves that CSR and a strong sense of employee purpose actively contribute to increased employee engagement , leading to increases in productivity, profitability and innovation.  

Benevity data shows that companies who engage their people in doing good see an average of 57% lower turnover (and higher in some industries) — a huge deal when studies show that turnover costs companies hundreds of billions of dollars each year.

CSR has a place in every company

The CSR landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Now, more than ever, companies are seeing the value of embracing corporate purpose by helping their employees have an impact on the world while they’re at work, investing in their communities and encouraging volunteering.

And companies are seeing the benefits of their CSR efforts: boosts in employee morale, improved retention and higher profits. Whether you’re launching your program from scratch or building upon a solid foundation to take your program international, now’s the time to have a positive impact on the world.    

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What Is Corporate Social Responsibility? 4 Types

Corporate social responsibility graphic with hand holding lightbulb

  • 08 Apr 2021

Until fairly recently, most large businesses were driven almost exclusively with a single goal in mind: maximizing profits.

In the past few decades, however, more business leaders have recognized that they have a responsibility to do more than simply maximize profits for shareholders and executives. Rather, they have a social responsibility to do what’s best—not just for their companies, but people, the planet, and society at large.

This realization has led to the emergence of companies identifying as socially responsible. Some even carry designations or seals, such as B Corporations (B Corps), social purpose corporations (SPCs), and low-profit limited liability companies (L3Cs).

But what is corporate social responsibility, and what are the different forms it can take?

Access your free e-book today.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is the idea that a business has a responsibility to the society that exists around it, according to the online course Sustainable Business Strategy .

Firms that embrace CSR are typically organized in a manner that empowers them to act in a socially responsible way to positively impact the world. It’s a form of self-regulation that can be expressed in initiatives or strategies, depending on an organization’s goals. Many organizations communicate these efforts to external and internal stakeholders through corporate social responsibility reports .

There are various examples of what “socially responsible” means from organization to organization. Firms are often guided by a concept known as the triple bottom line , which dictates that a business should be committed to measuring its social and environmental impact, sustainability efforts, and profits. The adage “profit, people, planet,” known as the “three P’s,” is often used to summarize the driving force behind this concept.

Check out our video on corporate social responsibility below, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more explainer content!

plan for corporate social responsibility

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility

CSR is traditionally broken into four categories: environmental, philanthropic, ethical, and economic responsibility.

1. Environmental Responsibility

Environmental responsibility is the belief that organizations should behave in as environmentally friendly a way as possible. It’s one of the most common forms of CSR. Some companies use the term “environmental stewardship” to refer to such initiatives.

Companies that seek to embrace environmental responsibility can do so in several ways:

  • Reducing harmful practices: Decreasing pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, the use of single-use plastics, water consumption, and general waste
  • Regulating energy consumption: Increasing reliance on renewables, sustainable resources, and recycled or partially recycled materials
  • Offsetting negative environmental impact: Planting trees, funding research, and donating to related causes

3 ways to embrace environmental responsibility: reduce harmful practices, regulate energy consumption, and offset negative environmental impact

2. Ethical Responsibility

Ethical responsibility is concerned with ensuring an organization is operating in a fair and ethical manner. Organizations that embrace ethical responsibility aim to practice ethical behavior through fair treatment of all stakeholders, including leadership, investors, employees, suppliers, and customers.

Firms can embrace ethical responsibility in different ways. For example, a business might set its own, higher minimum wage if the one mandated by the state or federal government doesn’t constitute a “livable wage.” Likewise, a business might require that products, ingredients, materials, or components be sourced according to free trade standards.

In this regard, many firms have processes to ensure they’re not purchasing products resulting from slavery or child labor.

3. Philanthropic Responsibility

Philanthropic responsibility refers to a business’s aim to actively make the world and society a better place.

In addition to acting ethically and environmentally friendly, organizations driven by philanthropic responsibility often dedicate a portion of their earnings. While many firms donate to charities and nonprofits that align with their missions, others donate to worthy causes that don’t directly relate to their business. Others go so far as to create their own charitable trust or organization to give back and have a positive impact on society.

4. Economic Responsibility

Economic responsibility is the practice of a firm backing all of its financial decisions in its commitment to do good. The end goal isn’t just to maximize profits, but also to make sure the business operations positively impact the environment, people, and society.

Sustainable Business Strategy | Unite Profit and Purpose | Learn More

What Are the Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility?

Most firms embrace CSR due to moral convictions, which can result in several benefits and important social change .

CSR initiatives can, for example, be a powerful marketing tool, helping a company position itself favorably in the eyes of consumers, investors, and regulators. These initiatives can also improve employee engagement and satisfaction—key measures that drive retention. They can even attract potential employees who carry strong personal convictions that match those of the organization.

Finally, CSR initiatives inherently force business leaders to examine hiring and management practices, where and how they source products or components, and the steps they take to deliver value to customers.

This reflection can often lead to innovative and groundbreaking solutions that help a company act in a more socially responsible way and increase profits. For example, reconceptualizing the manufacturing process so that a company consumes less energy and produces less waste allows it to become more environmentally friendly while reducing its energy and materials costs— value that can be reclaimed and shared with both suppliers and customers.

Are you interested in learning how to lead your organization toward positive change? Explore Sustainable Business Strategy —one of our online courses related to business in society —and discover how you can become a purpose-driven leader. Not sure which course is the right fit? Download our free course flowchart to determine which best aligns with your goals.

This post was updated on August 8, 2023. It was originally published on April 8, 2021.

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plan for corporate social responsibility

Developing Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy - A Guide

plan for corporate social responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility has become a non-negotiable component of an organization's business model. According to the Harvard Business Blog , 20% of S&P 500 companies started their Corporate Social Responsibility Programs in 2011. The number increased to 90% in 2019. These statistics prove the dire need for businesses to incorporate brand empathy and ethics towards the community. As per the same blog, nearly 70% of employees in the US believe in working for a company with a vital purpose. 60% accepted a pay cut as long as the company is purpose-driven. This data is an eye-opener for companies without CSR to take a step ahead to improve their business and help the community. 

Developing a CSR strategy requires a well-formulated plan. It involves researching, collecting facts and figures, making decisions, bringing people on board, and many other responsibilities. Read along to learn a step-by-step process to build a successful Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. 

1. Research and define your CSR Plan

Developing a CSR program begins with deep research about environmental, social, and governance causes. Start by recognizing the general issues in the economy. You can network with non-profit agencies, NGOs, and HR professionals to collect real-time data on the problems. If your CSR strategy aligns with working for human resource causes, you can start by researching what your employees care about and the issues they face. After collecting the data, you can refine it by shredding excess information and retaining only the chunk that explains your CSR goals. 

Research and define your CSR Plan

You can define your goal precisely by looking into current CSR trends . Another good place to research is the list of 17 sustainable goals of the United Nations . CSR programs function to fulfill the following responsibilities:

  • Environmental Responsibility
  • Ethical Responsibility
  • Philanthropic Responsibility
  • Economic Responsibility

Related: Top Corporate Social Responsibility Ideas &Initiatives

2. Strategize the campaign 

After conducting adequate research, synthesize the entire plan into a series of strategies. These strategies should be goal-driven and pragmatic. Set realistic and achievable goals for the short, medium, and long term. Make sure to aim for the purposes that are relevant to your business. For example, if your company is an NBFC, your CSR strategy could include funding scholarships to CFA candidates. Similarly, if your company is responsible for generating an excessive carbon footprint, you can set goals to create environmental equilibrium. For instance, Google has been carbon-neutral since 2007 and has aimed to become carbon-free by 2030 . It has also pledged to achieve zero net emissions from its value chain activities. Creating a strategy that reflects your company's values and culture results in higher employee engagement and greater stakeholder trust.

Strategize the campaign

3. Establish the CSR Framework

Once you finish strategizing your goals, you can move on to designing a functional framework for the company to take action. You can start by exploring opportunities that require a social commitment. Ensure that the opportunities you look for are relevant to your business objectives. For example, LEGO dedicated the "Build the Change" initiative to empowering children and bringing out their creativity . Your goals do not have to imitate other companies' CSR strategies. You must look for the right opportunity and pledge to create a noteworthy difference.

Establish the CSR Framework

4. Make sure to have a Face of the Campaign

Having a corporate social responsibility program backed by the company's executives directly translates into a sense of importance created in the minds of its stakeholders. An executive buy-in adds commitment and dedication to the corporate social responsibility program. Employees get motivated to take charge of their responsibilities, and investors develop trust in the organization. To get the leaders on board, enlighten them about your research-based strategy and how it can align with the brand vision. Explain the benefit it will bring to your organization in the long run. You can even incorporate insights from other brands implementing CSR strategies and demonstrate their outcomes. 

Make sure to have a Face of the Campaign.

5. Launch the campaign

After putting in all the research and formulating an executable plan, it's time to launch the campaign. Design presentations to show the strategies and goals for the stakeholders to be aware of the company's program. Communicate your program well with your employees, investors, customers, clients, and followers. Maintain transparency by putting out public data displaying facts and figures about the program statistics. For example, since 2015, Google has published its annual environmental report, presenting data on goals aimed, achieved, and in progress.

Launch the campaign

6. Follow up and stay connected

Build good relationships with the community and incorporate empathy as a brand. The corporate social responsibility program is solely a means to make this world a better place through authentic and research-driven strategies.

Follow up and stay connected

This was a step-by-step guide demonstrating the process of developing a successful Corporate Social Responsibility strategy. Remember that every brand should design a strategy inclining to its values. It should be a customized plan and not a one-size-fits-all blueprint. Avoid expecting quick results. Even though you may notice short-term effects, CSR is a long-term strategy. It requires aggressive planning and execution to make a noticeable difference in the community.

Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

Beyond Profit: Exploring the Profound Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility

By embracing CSR and its benefits, your business can foster long-term commitment and sustainability. Preserve your stakeholders and help safeguard their interests which are necessary for their advancement as well.

Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility

Understanding the Four Levels of the CSR Pyramid

Explore the Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility: economic, legal, ethical, and philanthropic responsibilities shaping sustainable business practices. Find out how to integrate these responsibilities into your CSR framework.

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility and major factors associated with corporate social responsibility

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility

In this engaging exploration, tailored for HR professionals and visionary companies committed to CSR, explore its diverse types, and unveil the key factors that can revolutionize your branding efforts while creating a positive social impact.

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Corporate social responsibility (CSR): A one-stop guide

A board member with a specialty in corporate social responsibility.

What is Corporate Social Responsibility?

What is corporate social responsibility (CSR)? As with most business concepts, corporate social responsibility has several definitions, but these broadly coalesce around some core themes. Investopedia ’s definition of corporate social responsibility is “a self-regulating business model that helps a company be socially accountable — to itself, its stakeholders, and the public.” Harvard Business Review  sees CSR’s primary goal as “to align a company’s social and environmental activities with its business purpose and values.” At the same time, the European Commission  defines CSR as “the responsibility of enterprises for their impact on society.” Diligent's corporate social responsibility definition: CSR is an organization's obligation to act ethically and to the benefit of the community it is a part of and depends on.

Why Have More Companies Become Concerned About Corporate Social Responsibility in Recent Years?

The importance of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has undoubtedly grown over the last decade. When looking at why CSR is increasingly important, one should consider the impact of CSR on all elements of corporate life. Alongside the altruistic drivers — the growing recognition of the importance of corporate social responsibility to society — organizations acknowledge the importance of corporate social responsibility in business. CSR’s impact on a brand’s image has been evident in recent years, with numerous examples of a company’s supply chain, employment practices and environmental performance having the potential to derail its reputation. So, what is driving this increased significance of corporate social responsibility? CSR encompasses many different strands: environmental governance, ethical concerns, community and employee relations – and the drivers can differ for each of these strands. For instance, pressure from the media and investors in recent years has brought environmental sustainability to the top of the board’s agenda . A more proactive approach to corporate social purpose  may have been driven by a desire to demonstrate a commitment to social purpose to shareholders and believe that this will impart a competitive edge. This can be cited as a key reason why companies engage in corporate social responsibility.

Importance of Corporate Social Responsibility

The growing public awareness of CSR issues has led to an expectation that the companies we spend money with are “doing the right thing” regarding their social citizenship. The value of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is demonstrated when businesses’ approaches mirror their customers’ priorities. All too often, though, there remains a mismatch between public preferences and corporate performance. The Telegraph reports that in 2019, while 59% of consumers expected companies to take a stand on climate and environmental issues, only 16% of business leaders cited CSR as their top three business concerns. When looking at the importance of corporate social responsibility, the other issue to consider is the breadth of CSR and whether, as a term and a concept, it’s specific enough to hone in on the core issues you should be considering. ESG — environmental, social and governance — is a term that is increasingly being used interchangeably with CSR. But strictly speaking, the two are different. Stakeholder intelligence experts Alva sum this up nicely, noting that: “Without CSR, there would be no ESG, but the two are far from interchangeable. While CSR aims to make a business accountable, ESG criteria make its efforts measurable.” In some cases, the potential breadth of issues covered under CSR and the lack of tangible ways to measure CSR efforts have meant that companies’ corporate social responsibility initiatives have failed to achieve their potential. The number of projects that potentially fall under the CSR banner can make it difficult to manage or quantify value. Enter ESG. While ESG encompasses CSR initiatives, it also provides a clear framework, with a growing number of regulatory imperatives — more of which below — around ESG performance and reporting . Will boards’ efforts in the future move away from CSR and towards ESG? We will have to wait and see.

History of Corporate Social Responsibility

Because it has attracted increasing attention in recent years, it might be assumed that corporate social responsibility is a relatively new concept – but the belief that corporations have a responsibility towards society is not new . In fact, it’s possible to trace the history of corporate social responsibility (CSR) back through several centuries, and corporate social responsibility as a phrase has been in use since the 1950s. It’s generally accepted, though, that the basis of what we understand by corporate social responsibility today was created in 1979 when Archie B. Carroll published his “CSR pyramid,” which breaks CSR down into four areas:

  • Economic responsibility
  • Legal responsibility
  • Ethical responsibility
  • Philanthropic responsibility

Carroll’s corporate social responsibility theory is that CSR and business are not mutually exclusive but that companies must address their commercial obligations before seeking to meet ethical or philanthropic ones.

CSR Timeline

1953 Howard R Bowen publishes Social Responsibilities of the Businessman, widely viewed as the first book to comprehensively cover business ethics and social responsibility. 1970 American economist Milton Friedman publishes an article titled The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. The first Earth Day takes place. 1976 Founding members of the “Five Percent Club” – including Dayton Corporation (later Target) and General Mills – commit to using a proportion of their profits for philanthropy. 1984 R. Edward Freeman publishes Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach¸ often considered the point at which CSR became part of mainstream management theory. 1999 The first mainstream sustainable investment indices, The Dow Jones Sustainability Indices (DJSI), are launched. 2000 The United Nations Global Compact , a voluntary initiative based on CEO commitments to implement universal sustainability principles, is launched in front of 44 business CEOs and 20 heads of civil society organizations. 2000 The first full version of the Global Reporting Initiative’s Sustainability Reporting Guidelines is released. 2002 The Johannesburg Stock Exchange becomes the world’s first exchange for requiring listed companies to report on sustainability. 2011 The United Nations issues its Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights , a global standard aimed at preventing and addressing human rights abuse risk linked to business activity. 2015 The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) is established to promote climate-related reporting in UK companies’ financial information. 2015 The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are launched, emphasizing the role of business in achieving the global development agenda. 2017 Gender pay gap reporting becomes mandatory for all companies with more than 250 employees in the UK.

Role and Purpose of CSR

CSR is increasingly becoming embedded in management thinking and corporate practice. This begs the question: what is the purpose of corporate social responsibility? Is it something that boards should adopt blindly, without questioning the role of corporate social responsibility within their business? In 2015, Harvard Business Review surveyed 142 managers from Harvard Business School’s CSR executive education program. This research found that “most companies practice a multifaceted version of CSR that runs the gamut from pure philanthropy to environmental sustainability to the active pursuit of shared value.” Therefore, the role and purpose of corporate social responsibility can be a broad concept. The scope of corporate social responsibility within your organization will depend somewhat on your business’s sector, objectives, and potential impact on the environment and society. For your business, a CSR priority may be engaging with your local community and providing practical help or financial support to local causes. Or – particularly if your industry is a historic pollutant – you may prioritize environmental performance, reduce your carbon footprint, and minimize your impact. Or you may choose to focus on an issue that’s relevant to your business; diversity, inclusion, ethical supply chains – and channel your efforts into that. The wide range of themes falling under the CSR umbrella means that you have no shortage of areas to focus your CSR activities.

Challenges Facing CSR

As with all business requirements, particularly those newly adopted or growing in complexity or focus, there are challenges inherent in corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies. While we’re moving indubitably towards a more CSR-focused business landscape, that doesn’t mean that the road towards CSR is without its bumps.

Key Challenges of Corporate Social Responsibility

1) the ability to deliver clear and transparent reporting.

Transparency around CSR-related matters is key – whether that’s your D&I strategy, your environmental approach or your human rights policy. Shareholders and stakeholders expect you to act on CSR issues and evidence your achievements candidly. In some cases, as with The UK FCA’s requirements around TCFD , this is mandated in your formal financial reporting. Increasing numbers of companies will face the challenge of delivering clear, comprehensive reporting on CSR (and wider ESG) objectives as pressure grows to document and communicate their performance.

2) A need To Define Clear Priorities and Goals

This is one of the key challenges facing corporate social responsibility strategies. Long before they can report on their successes, organizations need to identify what CSR means and how they will prioritize key actions. There are so many aspects of corporate social responsibility that this is very much an individual question for each business. There can be dissent over the focus of efforts, even within organizations.

3) Stakeholder Pressure

Sometimes, areas of focus are informed by pressure from investors and other stakeholders. Increasingly, a company’s position on CSR and ESG is a critical factor in investor decisions and customer choices. As reporting grows ever-more comprehensive, mandated and publicized, it will become easier for potential investors and buyers to make decisions based on CSR performance. Companies will face growing pressure to meet and report on their objectives.

4) Measurement of CSR Activity

When CSR began as a “nice to do,” there was less imperative to have clear and comparable measures of performance. Today, boards need not only track their performance against the CSR objectives they have set but to compare themselves to their peers and competitors. But accurate information on your own and others’ performance can be hard to pinpoint, especially in areas like executive pay, where companies can closely guard their data. Accessing centralized, consistent and reliable data can be a crucial challenge for companies wanting to measure and track their CSR efforts.

5) Making the Connection Between CSR, Value and Profitability

Businesses may adopt and expedite CSR strategies due to a genuine desire to improve their social purpose. Still, the ability to achieve “social capital” from their achievements cannot be overlooked. Communicating your ESG strategy to investors and other stakeholders, from the value of current initiatives to the potential of new opportunities, will help to realize the advantages of corporate social responsibility strategies. The effort and cost of monitoring performance across business functions, and the work involved in translating this into business metrics, can be a challenge if you are operating without an integrated approach across all your CSR and ESG programs.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Corporate Social Responsibility

It would be easy to imagine that there are only positives associated with CSR; advocates of corporate social responsibility argue that it only has upsides. But as with any business strategy, there are many aspects of corporate social responsibility. Each brings implications in terms of resource, cost and other considerations that companies should be alive to. There are arguments for and against corporate social responsibility adoption.

3 Benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility Strategies

1) improved profitability and value.

This should be one of the most welcome advantages of corporate social responsibility from the business’s perspective. Reducing waste and increasing energy efficiency doesn’t just improve the environment and your CSR credentials; it should also deliver a reduction in your costs. Therefore, there are direct benefits to CSR adoption in addition to the obvious altruistic and reputational ones. As well as lower costs, there are opportunities for greater profits. Customers proactively support businesses that share positive CSR and ESG approaches — and are prepared to pay a premium for doing so. Research from Tilburg University in the Netherlands found that consumers are ready to pay an additional 10% for products they deem socially responsible; there are clear commercial benefits of a more socially responsible strategy. 2) Improved investor relations As your CSR performance becomes known, you should enjoy improved access to capital, as investors are increasingly confident in your business. Shareholder pressure around companies and corporate social responsibility increase constantly; the expectation that corporates will adopt socially responsible policies is well-documented. It stands to reason that if you’re ahead of the game here, you will have a more harmonious relationship with all your stakeholders.

3) Ease of compliance with CSR-focused regulatory requirements

As we mentioned above, CSR and ESG are increasingly in the spotlight regarding corporate reporting. Compliance with the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures reporting requirements, for instance, will soon be mandatory in the UK and is encouraged elsewhere. A proactive CSR approach will give you a strong story to share and enable you to comply with requirements around CSR reporting. But it’s important not to downplay the challenges of implementing a CSR strategy.

4 Common Arguments Against Corporate Social Responsibility

1) the cost and challenges of implementation.

There’s no getting over that CSR costs money. CSR and wider ESG reporting require dedicated focus, demanding resources and budget. Risk-assessing your CSR approach takes time and can be a challenge. Many boards lack full oversight of the issues they need to consider — the risks faced, the board and senior team’s composition, any conflicts of interests. Once organizations identify their priorities, they need to operationalize their CSR goals, turning insights into a roadmap for action. While there are tools that can make this easier, businesses shouldn’t underestimate the time and money that an effective CSR strategy entails. For smaller organizations particularly, the resources needed can be a barrier to CSR.

2) The Fear of Opening the Organization To Scrutiny

There can also be a fear of “opening the doors” on CSR, inviting inspection of the company’s ethics, supply chain, environmental performance and philanthropy. CSR is a bit of a double-edged sword, in the sense that organizations need to promote their CSR activity to gain public approbation for it — but in doing so, open themselves up to criticism of their approach. Any communication of your achievements on corporate social responsibility emphasizes the work yet to be done. Companies may wonder whether the potential reputational damage from negative publicity around CSR is worth the work involved in devising and publicizing a corporate social responsibility strategy. Amplifying this, shareholders, stakeholders and consumers are increasingly alive to the concept of “greenwashing,” the practice of overstating environmental or other ethical credentials. An organization needs to ensure its CSR reporting is comprehensive, honest and frank about any shortcomings to avoid it being questioned and discredited.

3) Conflicting Priorities and Objectives

We talked above about the cost of implementing new corporate social responsibility approaches. Any company with shareholders has a fiduciary duty to those shareholders to maximize the company’s profits, and the CEOs of commercial enterprises tend to be tasked with improving the company’s financial performance. You could argue that corporate social responsibility and business objectives are diametrically opposed, that CSR conflicts with the fiduciary duty and CEO role by intentionally introducing costs into the business and reducing profits. Alongside the inherent costs of reporting, CSR can increase costs by requiring ethical supply chains, potentially putting companies that practice it at a commercial disadvantage. There is, then, an argument that CSR creates a conflict of interest between commercial and altruistic imperatives.

4) Limitations of CSR

As we mentioned above, CSR has limitations; its broad definition can make it difficult to put boundaries around what falls under the CSR remit. As a result, it can be hard to create a clear plan to tackle CSR: where do you focus? This can also make CSR achievements difficult to quantify. These limitations may, for some organizations, provide an excuse to avoid CSR altogether; it falls into the “too difficult” or “too vague” pile and is overlooked in favor of more tangible strategies. While it’s clear, then, that for boards, the benefits of pursuing a strategy of social responsibility and corporate citizenship are self-evident, there are considerations that need to be born in mind as well.

Corporate Social Responsibility Best Practices

For any organization aiming for good corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices, there are some recognized best practices to follow. Corporate social responsibility practices might vary from business to business, but some best practices should be universal.

Identify Your Corporate Values and Purpose

There are currently few regulatory imperatives specifically related to CSR. As a result, organizations are fairly free to decide on their own path and priorities based on their own views on the merits of corporate social responsibility. A first step might be to set some priorities, ensuring that these are in line with the things that matter to your key stakeholders — investors, customers, employees and anyone impacted by your business operations. In some cases, priorities might be obvious; if your company is a historic polluter, objectives relating to greener performance seem sensible. For other businesses, there isn’t such a direct link between CSR issues and their operations; these organizations have a freer rein when it comes to choosing issues or causes to align with.

Allocate Corporate Social Responsibility Roles and Responsibilities

It’s important to make people answerable for your CSR strategy; this will create accountability and focus attention on your aims. It’s important to make people answerable for your CSR strategy; this will create accountability and focus attention on your aims.

Depending on your organization’s size, this might be a dedicated CSR team, or it might simply mean giving key members of your leadership team-specific CSR responsibilities. It’s essential that your board and senior executives have an overview of corporate social responsibility within the business, but equally vital that responsibility should disseminate throughout the organization. Employees at all levels should have ownership of your approach to CSR and know that they play a key part. Creating a group of “champions” who can drive the CSR message throughout the organization can help here – but ultimately, the buck should stop with specific individuals who are given responsibility for achieving your goals.

Take a Business-Wide Approach

Ad-hoc or unfocused activity, while well-intentioned, won’t cut it when it comes to your corporate approach to social responsibility. One of the merits of corporate social responsibility is exactly that; that it's corporate. You should focus on harnessing the scale of your organization to create an approach that delivers more than a series of disconnected initiatives.

Communicate Internally and Externally

Shouting about your approach is essential for CSR — both to engender internal buy-in and achieve the reputational benefits of tackling your social obligations. Communicate openly and honestly about your aims and, importantly, any room for improvement. Equally important: celebrate your successes — don’t be afraid to share any achievements. And be generous with your learnings; CSR, by its very nature, should be for the greater good. If you can join any sector or cross-industry CSR groups to share approaches taken and lessons learned, do.

Benchmark Your Performance

It’s important to measure and compare your performance on CSR both internally between departments and externally with other organizations. There are some external ratings — third-party ”risk scores,” particularly for the ESG elements of CSR — which investors use to assess a company’s initiatives. You will also want to put in place your own monitoring, something that can be a challenge if your CSR data isn’t on point.

Corporate Social Responsibility Plan/Strategy

We touched in the previous section on the need for strategic corporate social responsibility and  an organized, orderly approach  rather than one comprised of disparate initiatives. What should make up this corporate social responsibility plan? CSR plans should encompass all the best practice steps outlined above, adapting them as needed to fit your organization’s circumstances. Defining your values and purpose; creating a plan that fits with your business’s core competencies; identifying the issues of importance to your stakeholders; communicating your aims and progress, and measuring and reporting on the impact of your efforts — your plan will need to include all these elements. Pursuing a strategy of social responsibility and good corporate practice needs to deliver evidence in terms of its ROI. The issue of reporting on your CSR progress deserves more exploration, so we look at that in more detail in the next section.

What is a corporate social responsibility report? It’s a formal report that evaluates the impact of your company's operations on the external community and environment. The format of your corporate social responsibility reporting may vary depending on whether it’s being produced for internal use or external scrutiny. CSR reporting might include an assessment of your organization’s economic, environmental, and/or social impacts, depending on the company’s area of operations and areas of CSR focus. Any corporate social responsibility audit you carry out will provide data on your performance against your stated objectives. The reporting is valuable internally in enabling you to measure the effectiveness of your CSR strategy and identify future priorities, and externally, in presenting your CSR credentials, aims and achievements to the world. Increasingly, some elements of CSR reporting are mandated by regulation, as with the TCFD reporting requirements we detailed earlier. We are likely to see CSR and ESG reporting becoming more of a regulatory imperative and less of a “nice to have” over time.

Corporate Social Responsibility Policies

Your corporate social responsibility policy is where you set your stall out. Examples of corporate social responsibility policies will differ between organizations, but as a general rule of thumb, your CSR policy should include: Your purpose: your CSR objectives and values. The scope of your CSR strategy — what does it encompass? The elements of your approach and the way you plan to tackle them. This might include a description of the social or environmental issue you are focusing on and the steps you will take. You may want to differentiate your regulatory obligations and any measures you choose to take proactively.

Corporate Social Responsibility Regulations and Compliance

Although it’s sometimes believed that the concept of corporate social responsibility is imposed on corporations by law, generally, this isn’t the case. Instead, it’s external pressures and the organization’s own ethical standards that set expectations around CSR. Legislation and expectations around corporate social responsibility vary by jurisdiction. Still, there is a consensus that it should be self-policed, an approach proactively led by organizations themselves, rather than something prescribed by regulation. Corporate social responsibility compliance, therefore, is something self-imposed rather than externally mandated. Investopedia describes CSR as “a self-regulating business model.” Similarly, the European Commission agrees that “it should be company led,” arguing that “EU citizens rightly expect that companies understand their positive and negative impacts on society and the environment. And, therefore, prevent, manage and mitigate any negative impact that they may cause.” This expectation isn’t confined to Europe; Forbes , describing CSR in the US, says that while CSR ‘”is a form of soft law” and “not required by US statute or regulations,” it is nonetheless “seen as obligatory by most corporations because of consumer expectations and internal norms.” The Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures encourages climate-focused reporting in companies’ financial filings, and in the UK, the financial regulator the FCA now requires that companies with premium listings on the London Stock Exchange include a statement in their annual financial report setting out whether their disclosures are consistent with TCFD recommendations and adding an explanation if they are not.

CSR Theories and Models

Many different theories underlie the development and concept of corporate social responsibility.

Milton Friedman

In 1970, American economist Milton Friedman published an essay, The Social Responsibility of Business Is To Increase Its Profits , in the New York Times. In it, Friedman set out his belief that profit must be a priority and a precursor to any social responsibility, stating that: “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits so long as it stays within the rules of the game, which is to say, engages in open and free competition without deception or fraud." Friedman’s belief, also known as the shareholder theory of corporate social responsibility, underpins many theories around corporate social responsibility.

Carroll and the Corporate Social Responsibility Pyramid

In 1979, Archie Carroll devised a four-part model of CSR: the pyramid of corporate social responsibility. The four components of the pyramid of corporate social responsibility are economic responsibility, legal responsibility, ethical responsibility and philanthropic responsibility. True CSR, Carroll posits, requires satisfying all four parts consecutively, stating that “CSR encompasses the economic, legal, ethical and philanthropic expectations placed on organizations by society at a given point in time.” Carroll believes that profit must come first; the base of the corporate social responsibility pyramid is concerned with economic success. Then comes the need to comply with relevant laws and regulations. The fourth layer of the pyramid is the need for an organization to meet its ethical duties. Then, after these three requirements are satisfied, a business can consider philanthropy.

Gray, Owens and Adams

In 1996, Carol Adams, Rob Gray and Dave Owen published Accounting & Accountability: Changes and Challenges in Corporate Social and Environmental Reporting. They present CSR approaches on a continuum, with “pristine capitalists” at one end and “deep ecologists” at the other, and all points in between representing the position of different stakeholders within an organization.

Benedict Sheehy

More recently, Sheehy, an associate professor at the University of Canberra, has become recognized as an expert on CSR, publishing research into the use of the law to “achieve long term environmental and social sustainability.” When determining their organization’s approach to CSR, boards may want to consider any or all of these theories to arrive at a CSR strategy that fulfills their corporate obligations as well as their social responsibilities.

Limitations in CSR Approaches

When boards consider how to tackle corporate social responsibility, there’s clearly much to think about. Among decisions on priorities and approaches, it’s important to consider both the importance of corporate social responsibility and its limits. We touched above on some of CSR’s limitations — particularly, the challenges of defining corporate social responsibility and finding tangible ways to measure any CSR strategy's success. The fact that social responsibility should be tailored to each business’s own activity and priorities is not only one of its strengths but can also be its weakness, making definitions and comparisons difficult. Today’s boards really need to consider ESG — which includes CSR within its auspices — rather than CSR alone. By tackling CSR within an ESG framework, it can be easier to set strategies, pinpoint specific actions, and prescribe success measures. But delivering on your ESG goals is not without its challenges. Data is the foundation on which your ESG approach is built , informing your objectives, providing the baseline for your achievements and enabling you to operationalize your ESG commitments. Many businesses, though, struggle to capture this data, leaving them in the dark when it comes to setting goals, monitoring progress and quantifying the impact of their initiatives. As a result, they are unable to capitalize on their ESG strategies’ ability to drive long-term growth and profitability. Diligent’s  ESG Solutions  are designed to help board members and executives establish clear ESG goals and operationalize them throughout the organization to ensure that every commitment leads to a measurable and enduring outcome. Take the next ESG step by creating a robust action plan to achieve and measure your goals.

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7 inspiring examples of corporate social responsibility

Written by by Ronnie Gomez

Published on  November 29, 2022

Reading time  7 minutes

You’ve probably thought long and hard about your brand’s look, personality and voice. But what about its role in society?

According to The Sprout Social Index™ 2023 , company alignment with personal values is very important to consumers today. Now, if your corporate social responsibility practices are lacking, it doesn’t only impact the public. It can impact your bottom line as well.

Corporate social responsibility (or CSR, for short) is an accountability model businesses use to integrate social and environmental causes into their operations. Depending on the cause, this can mean anything from corporate sponsorships to volunteer days to awareness campaigns.

How your brand takes action can set it up to create lasting connections with audiences that are looking to put their money where their mouths are. To help you promote your company’s program, we’ve gathered seven corporate social responsibility examples from top brands using social media to spread the word on how they’re giving back. Let’s dive in.

1. Alaska Airlines’ path to net zero emissions  

One of Alaska Airlines ’ five core values is to “do the right thing”. It may sound simple, but it’s paved the way for some truly innovative corporate social responsibility efforts, including a five-part plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2040.

This is no small project for a company that burns 750 million gallons of fuel each year. Alaska Airlines actually expanded its business model in new ways with the formation of Alaska Star Ventures , an investment arm that supports emerging aviation sustainability technologies.

This does more than just help them meet their goal: the ongoing investment also serves to push an entire industry forward. What they learn from this big, audacious goal can help inform how other aviation companies model their sustainability practices in the future.

Great #goals for an airline! I appreciate you mentioning #electric & #solar assistance is coming. But before they're available on the jets… I'd ♥️ 2 know your plans for those! But good start! Makes me feel good when I do have 2 fly! #cleanenergy #AlternativeAirplay #airtravel — Amanda Nicole (@AmandaNicole487) April 21, 2021

A 20-year plan toward sustainability ensures that the company isn’t promoting patchwork solutions toward a problem as dire as the climate crisis. Instead, they’re thinking big, practicing accountability and investing in their approach.

Takeaway : You don’t need to have made good on all your CSR efforts before you can start talking about them. Letting your fans in on your journey can humanize your brand and show you’re making the incremental changes needed for a better future.

2. Grove Collaborative’s holiday sustainability series

Anyone who’s ever hosted a holiday gathering knows that even a little party can result in a lot of garbage. That’s why Grove Collaborative is helping people make the most wonderful time of the year wonderful for the planet, too.

Between gifts, gatherings, and the general bustle of the season, it can be a lot to remember the planet, too. 🌏 But as… Posted by Grove Collaborative on  Friday, November 18, 2022

Throughout November, Grove Collaborative used their social channels to share tips and tricks for a more sustainable holiday season. As a brand that specializes in reusable, planet-friendly household goods, this would be an easy opportunity to promote their own product line. Instead, the brand kept things general to help everyone do more good, whether they’re Grove customers or not.

This CSR example works because it shows how well Grove Collaborative knows their mission and audience. Instead of encouraging people to buy more, they’re providing sustainable solutions for what they already have.

Keeping this series product promotion-free helps Grove Collaborative position their brand as more than just a direct-to-consumer goods shop: they are a resource consumers can keep coming back to for more tips on sustainable living.

Takeaway : Avoid including promotional language in posts about your CSR efforts. Focus on raising awareness to keep your message authentic.

3. Bumble’s anti-cyberflashing campaign

For a long time, cyberflashing felt like an unfortunate side effect of being online. Now, Bumble is stepping up to change that.

We’re continuing the momentum this month in California with the FLASH ACT (SB 53)! Learn more about these bills and how you can show support here: https://t.co/Aj9vdNt58j — Bumble (@bumble) September 1, 2022

Their stance on the issue is simple but powerful: Flashing is a crime, and digital flashing should be, too. So far, they’ve helped pass legislation in both Texas and Virginia that makes sending unsolicited lewd photos punishable by law.

This work comes as a direct result of a Bumble-commissioned survey distributed in 2018 which found that one in three women have received unwanted, inappropriate photographs while using the Bumble app. After looking into the phenomenon and finding no legal basis to prevent this type of unwanted exposure, they got to work.

TY Assemblymembers for passing #SB53 with strong bipartisan support! This bill will establish legal protections for Californians when they receive unsolicited sexually explicit images & videos—known as ‘cyberflashing.’ Now SB 53 returns to the Senate for a final concurrence vote! pic.twitter.com/AUjNaU63Og — Connie Leyva (@SenatorLeyva) August 18, 2022

Bumble is setting a new standard for corporate social responsibility examples by taking a stand on their user’s behalf. These efforts help uphold their brand mission of supporting empowered connections in love by creating a safer digital environment for them to flourish.

Takeaway : Brands shouldn’t be afraid to get political online as long as they’re working in the best interest of their target audience . Use survey tools and social listening to zero in on what matters to your fans and use your brand’s platform to show you have their back.

A screenshot of Sprout's social listening topic builder.

4. Tony’s Chocolonely’s mission for a 100% slave-free supply chain

The Dutch confectionery company Tony’s Chocolonely specializes in delicious, fair-trade chocolate treats. They also specialize in advocating for farmers’ rights and a slave-free global chocolate supply chain.

Yup, you read that right. Modern slavery is an unfortunate reality in the cocoa industry.


This tragedy continues because the majority of consumers are far removed from the processes that bring goods into stores for them to purchase. This distance prevents these incredibly harmful practices from being seen, considered or discussed at large. That’s where Tony’s Chocolonely comes in.

The company raises awareness on the issue of modern slavery every chance they get. It’s in their packaging, across their website and a major theme throughout their social content. For Tony’s Chocolonely, corporate social responsibility is more than a practice: it’s a part of their brand’s mission .


Takeaway : If you’re trying to raise awareness on a specific cause, create a more cohesive story by tying your social corporate responsibility content back to an overarching brand messaging framework .

5. Subaru’s #SubaruLovesPets campaign

Thanks to Subaru , October 22nd is every pup’s favorite day of the year.


In 2019, Subaru introduced National Make A Dog’s Day as a part of their #SubaruLovesPets initiative. Since then, they’ve been celebrating furry friends and encouraging customers to consider adopting “underdogs”—dogs with special needs—at pop-up adoption events at dealerships across the country.

On social, this has resulted in some seriously adorable collaborations. In 2022, they partnered with the comedy Twitter account WeRateDogs ( @dog_rates ) to share adoption stories and, of course, dog ratings.

This is the adoption story of Rango (now Gus), everyone’s favorite little hippo ❤️ @subaru_usa #MakeADogsDay #ad pic.twitter.com/sg0SSK2hQ5 — WeRateDogs (@dog_rates) October 19, 2022

This, along with their long-standing partnership with the ASPCA , shows that corporate social responsibility efforts don’t need to be tied to your industry or business function. If it matters to your team, then it matters. Period.

Takeaway : Creator partnerships aren’t limited to product promotions. Use them to amplify your corporate social responsibility efforts to share your mission with new audiences.

6. Misfits Market’s #MisfitMemos series

Misfits Market does more than bring quality, organic foods directly to your door. They also bring quality information on inefficiencies in our food system directly to your feed.

@misfitsmarket Next up in our #MisfitsMemo series, we’re addressing how good waste has become a systemic problem—and why supporting grocers like us is a great way to start effecting change! #misfitsmarket #foodwaste #sustainability ♬ original sound – Misfits Market

Their #MisfitsMemos series on TikTok highlights little-known problems in the food supply chain to show consumers how they can use their dollars to make a change.

These bite-sized educational videos are a great introduction to the Misfits Market mission. In just over 30 seconds, their team can explain how they’re addressing inefficiencies in the food system through an innovative business model that has embedded corporate social responsibility throughout its operations.

@misfitsmarket Welcome to MisfitsMemo, our new series in which we break down the food system, one step at a time. First up: Why ordering groceries online can be better for the planet than shopping at a brick-and-mortar supermarket. 👀 #misfitsmarket ♬ original sound – Misfits Market

Takeaway : Social media can be a powerful teaching tool. Use educational content to build on your audience’s knowledge of a practice or issue.

7. Nike’s Bloom Over Doom campaign

Nike has big goals when it comes to sustainability. Their Move to Zero initiatives include pledges on transitioning to renewable energy, reducing carbon emissions and diverting manufacturing waste.

To promote these initiatives, Nike launched the Bloom Over Doom campaign in August 2022.

Bloom Over Doom celebrates the company’s philosophy toward innovation in sustainability. Rather than focusing on the risks and dangers of leaving the climate crisis unchecked, they’re focusing on how they can support a brighter future through healing, optimism and collective action.

The campaign is packed with bright social visuals and aspirational copy. It’s exciting to look at and even more exciting to feel a part of.

Takeaway : Giving back is a good thing. Even if you’re supporting a heavier cause, incorporate some cheer by painting the picture of your brand’s vision for the future. This will give your followers something exciting to root for as they keep up with your progress.

Find the issues that matter to your audience

These corporate social responsibility examples show that when brands talk about the causes they support, fans will respond with engagement and support. Raise awareness on the causes that resonate with your audience to help them get up to speed so they can help you do the work.

Learn how to effectively deliver your message as a part of a greater overarching strategy using our corporate communications plan template . This will help you proactively build a positive public image that advances your reputation and connects your brand with its next biggest fan.

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Action Plan Template for CSR

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  • Evaluate your current CSR programs to identify areas for improvement
  • Create tasks with clear objectives and deadlines for successful execution
  • Track progress over time so that you can measure success

Benefits of a CSR Action Plan Template

  • Increased public awareness and support
  • Reduced legal risk
  • Improved relationships with customers, partners, and other stakeholders
  • Enhanced reputation

Main Elements of a Action Plan Template for CSR

  • Background and reasons for implementing CSR
  • Objectives of CSR
  • Deliverables

How to Use a CSR Action Plan Template

1. set goals., 2. set priorities., 3. define strategies and tactics., 4. make plans practical & feasible., 5. monitor progress & adjust as needed., related action plan templates.

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plan for corporate social responsibility

Corporate Advocacy in a Time of Social Outrage

  • Alison Taylor

plan for corporate social responsibility

Today’s employees, particularly young ones, expect their employers to speak out about the social, political, and environmental issues they care about. Many organizations have complied, only to find themselves locked into a cycle of perpetual statement-making that is often tangential to their organizational priorities or runs against their political spending. Companies would be wise to reconsider how they determine what to prioritize and discuss internally and externally — and perhaps most important, how to involve employees early in the process. To achieve this, design an organization in which regular discussions about social priorities is anticipated; ethical concerns are part of day-to-day work; politics are considered a healthy part of discourse; and everyone is attuned to how corporate choices impact human beings.

Businesses can’t weigh in on every issue that employees care about. But they can create a culture of open dialogue and ethical transparency.

Recently I asked my MBA students whether they believed employers should be making public statements on the tragic events occurring in Israel and Gaza. One said he was “appalled” at the thought, but most took for granted that companies would speak out. Few even remember a time when companies avoided the political limelight.

How companies can choose when — and whether — to act on employees’ concerns.

  • Alison Taylor is a clinical associate professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business and the executive director of Ethical Systems, where her research focuses on ethics and business responsibility. She is the author of Higher Ground: How Business Can Do the Right Thing in a Turbulent World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2024).

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    Sidebar Ensuring sustainable supplies of critical raw materials Focusing CSR choices: Guiding principles Companies are likely to have activities scattered across the map, but that's not where they have to stay—nor is it how the benefits of CSR are maximized.

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