11 Expert CSR Predictions for 2017

Jan 4, 2017 5:40 PM ET
Blog

As millennials begin to dominate the workforce and consumer market, the way our world looks at the products and services we buy has changed for the better. Today’s consumers are more careful, cautious and educated about where and with whom they spend their hard-earned money. Successful brands are moving toward greater transparency and accountability to retain their customers and demonstrate responsibility to their communities and the world we live in. 

As we enter 2017, CSR trends are shifting and savvy companies will adapt in order to not only keep up but thrive. We asked 11 experts to weigh in on those emerging trends and share their thoughts on what we can expect for CSR in 2017 and beyond. 

Tyler Butler

Founder and Principal, 11Eleven Consulting, Former Director of CSR at GoDaddy

You can expect to see more large-scale campaigns in 2017 and beyond that leverage their company products to help their local communities. One great example of this is Subaru’s Drive the Love campaign. This campaign offers a $250 donation to one of a few select, well-respected charities with each Subaru purchase and also ties the campaign to the iconic song by Jackie DeShannon, Put a Little Love in Your Heart. You can expect to see more companies taking CSR to heart and sharing funds earned from their products and services in an effort to gain a more positive sentiment for their brand while also making the world a better place. Other companies who have successfully paid it forward based on customer purchases include Toms ShoesPeople WaterAmazon, and PetSmart.

Also expect to see more employee activation. Companies now realize that there is a huge opportunity to scale their philanthropic efforts through empowering their employees. Whether it’s through volunteerism or matching donations and volunteer grants, there are several ways to mobilize a huge army for good by allocating a small portion of the company’s philanthropic resources to their employees so that they can, in turn, support their own charities of choice. One great example of a company giving employees significant time off dedicated to volunteerism is Timberland. This company provides their employees with 40 hours each year to use for volunteer work.  The norm has been 16 hours to 24 hours in the past, but companies see these programs as drivers for millennial recruiting and are consequently enhancing their programs. 

Expect to see more industry-wide initiatives such as the one being spearheaded by the TechForce Foundation. This foundation is bringing together transportation giants such as Nissan, Carquest, Shell, SnapOn, Advance Auto Parts and Bridgestone / Firestone to address the transportation tech-talent pipeline shortage that is greatly impacting their industry. FutureTech Success will launch in early 2017 and will showcase the best of joining forces bringing in education leaders like Iridescent Learning and Skills USA to deepen the impact of this effort and create a full experience by engaging youth in hands on at-home activities and challenges. With a lack of educated, trained and qualified transportation techs in the US, our country is at risk of a huge economic shortfall if this issue isn’t addressed quickly.  

Cause-marketing campaigns will be an on-going trend in 2017. A great example of this marketing strategy is the Zappos campaign “Home for the Pawlidays.” In this campaign, Zappos covered the adoption fee of any pet selected from an ASPCA shelter during a pre-selected time frame. The campaign brought awareness to the issue of pet overpopulation while earning Zappos a ton of positive sentiment and helping shelters throughout the US during the harsh winter months when pet surrender rates are elevated.

Greg Perlstein

Senior Director at TMI Strategy, the consulting arm of DoSomething.org 

Millennials want to be directly involved in impact work now more than ever. This means that companies must involve consumers directly in CSR programs. It's not enough for young people to know that a company is donating money or that their employees are volunteering. They want the company to prove a direct contribution to the impact beyond only donating money.

The specific cause a company focuses on doesn’t particularly matter. Young people care about every cause under the sun (see our blog post about this topic). In 2017, people will be truly fired up for all the causes they believe in. This is a chance to recruit those people and harness their energy to make real change. Companies should be relentless, be specific and be honest to engage young people to the fullest.

Moving forward into 2017, video is everything. If companies aren't creating video content and using it strategically, both internally and externally, to get people excited about their CSR work, they are behind the curve.

Jessica Saba

Community Marketing Manager, 1908 Brands

Many companies are entering the corporate philanthropy space by starting small and allowing their giving program to grow with their sales. At 1908 Brands, we value environmental conservation, clean energy and youth activism, so we became 1% for the Planet members.  We commit to giving 1% of our net revenue to environmentally focused non-profit partners. The total fund was small at first, but as our sales grow, so does our annual fund.

Through 'percent of sales’ giving programs, it is much easier to show the board that while profits are important to the corporation, people and the planet are priorities as well.  

Employee input is more important than ever as we enter 2017. We host meetings to learn which causes are important to our employees. We always welcome non-profit suggestions from employees and if we are able to make a donation, we allow the employee who recommended the partner to deliver the donation. It’s incredible to see people light up when they realize they can direct a portion of the company fund to the projects they personally support.

In 2017, companies will value collaborations over competition. Through knowledge shares and an open willingness to connect, we are seeing companies that are competitive in the marketplace uninhibitedly share best practices and resources for effective corporate giving. For example, 1908 Brands is hosting a “Corporate Giving Summit” in April to bring together the ‘1% for the Planet’ corporate philanthropists to discuss program development, tactics for discovering and vetting non-profit partners and efforts to better solve the most pressing environmental challenges of our time.

More than ever, the relationship between the corporate and non-profit sector has to be strong. Once we find a great leadership team with the abilities to run great programs, we are all in. We are hyper-focused on providing financial support and access to our business resources, connections and communication channels to help the non-profit share their mission. The more creative we can be in assisting our partners outside of traditional giving programs, the stronger the relationship becomes.

Deniz Sasal

Founder of The Career Mastery and former consultant with AccountAbility.

In 2017, more companies will realize the importance of materiality and CSR reporting. In 2016, less than 50% of Fortune 1000 companies reported on their sustainability activities either as part of their annual report or as a separate publication. As investors and consumers become more concerned with environmental and social impacts, these large corporations will continue to place these issues higher in their corporate agenda.

Steve Woody

CEO of Avadim Technologies

 The mission and core values for any company should be deeply entwined and brand the company culture. Anyone focused on bringing corporate responsibility to life and keeping it sustainable has to engage EVERY employee with the stated mission and provide pathways for them to allow the company to solve real-world problems for the greater good. The future of CSR will be embedding it into the company culture and allowing every employee to participate to stay engaged and keep work meaningful.

DeeAnn Sims

Founder of SPBX Social 

 The number one trend I see for CSR moving forward involves big brands and corporate structures aligning themselves with nonprofit partners. Most nonprofits operate on a shoe string budget. By publicly endorsing a corporation, they not only benefit financially, but they are also able to maximize exposure for their cause. With consumers turning away from big name brands and looking more towards "local" and "small batch business,” corporations need to make a move towards social responsibility. Partnering with a chosen charity with similar values is a perfect solution.

Michael Montgomery

Founder of Montgomery Consulting

In 2017, there will be fewer new “voting” promotions. Asking people to vote for their favorite nonprofit as a means of influencing company giving has been very popular in recent years. As a marketing tool, it worked like gangbusters. For years, dozens (sometimes hundreds) of nonprofits urged their supporters to go to sponsor websites to vote for their favorite organization to win what were often modest gifts of cash, product or service. The bloom is now off this rose.  The growing difficulty of winning these competitions coupled with the small size of many of the prizes, has caused more sophisticated organizations to pass on these opportunities. It is only a matter of time before less sophisticated organizations follow suit. This doesn’t mean that voting promotions will go away. Well-established promotions are likely to continue for years to come, but I do not see this as an area that will continue to grow.

Integrating corporate giving and volunteering will remain popular and continue to grow.  Employees find volunteering fulfilling and the volunteering/giving combination more readily generates positive public attention than giving alone. I previously talked about this for FastCompany.  

Cause-marketing will continue to grow as well. Companies of all sizes find it both convenient and profitable to integrate their philanthropy and marketing through promotions that direct some proportion of revenue from product sales to specific nonprofit organizations.  An example of this is the local ice cream stand that sponsors a night each week where a percentage of ice cream sales go to the local Little League team.  At the other end of the spectrum are the complex, multi-company promotions in support of, for example, breast cancer awareness, research and treatment.

Seth McGuinness

President / Founder, Giving Great

In 2017, employees are going to have an accelerated emphasis on their company’s CSR program as millennials in the workplace move into higher responsibility and higher paying roles. This move in 2017 will require companies to be prepared to engage with their employees to a level where they are able to contribute as well as do more for social causes.

In the past, CSR has been synonymous with larger businesses, and those large companies have been able to promote their focus on social causes through giving, community relations and foundations. However, as HR technology is empowering small businesses to do more within their businesses (hire smarter, provide benefits easier, and make decisions faster), look for small businesses to become more involved in CSR. This shift will impact hiring for the larger companies as millennials expect to work for a company that is working to impact more than just their bottom line.

Christen Graham

President, Giving Strong, Inc. 

Leading companies recognize CSR as more than philanthropy and as more than a checkbook charity. CSR will continue to break out of and reach beyond the traditional actions of community giving and employee volunteerism. Employee diversity, responsible sourcing, workplace safety, good governance and energy conservation are all attributes of corporate social responsibility. Next year we will see more companies embracing CSR across the enterprise as part of an overall strategy to be better corporate citizens.

Tom Paladino

Founder and CEO of Paladino and Company

In our experience, we see a lot of professionals in positions such as Community Relations and Director of CSR who are struggling to find the framework that best matches their business; addresses the questions of their investors and constituents; and tracks the data that will most benefit operational improvements for the company. We are already seeing companies getting smarter about the frameworks that they use (or sometimes creating their own frameworks), and we expect to see this improvement and empowerment continue in 2017 and beyond.

We expect to see the various departments impacted by CSR reporting improve their collaboration and cooperation. Carbon disclosure, for example, impacts operations, finance, marketing, accounting, and legal departments. With CSR reporting, it’s not just about documenting year-over-year progress or regression from a baseline – it’s about actively monitoring the activity of a business in order to improve outcomes. These groups are getting increasingly interested in not just the methodology and framework of the report, but in the day-to-day actions that can be taken based on that data. 

There are a lot of questions about the new administration, and whether its policies will help or hinder the CSR programs for businesses of all sizes. The important thing to remember is that the majority of people running these businesses want to do good – they embrace the triple bottom line, and want to have a positive impact. Further, they know that socially responsible businesses is good business. We expect to see an accelerated adoption of CSR reporting by leading brands so that they can create clear market signals and send positive narratives to their customers. Customers trust companies that do good, and that certainly won’t change in the next 12 months.

The 2016 election has established the power of direct communications through social media, and corporate America will follow. Perhaps the SEC regulatory function can contribute to 'fair and even' fact reporting, and spur private sector solutions to climate change, resiliency, and human wellness.

Reed Bundy 

Founder & Principal at Ethostrategies, Former Director of CSR at Constant Contact 

2017 will represent a critical tipping point in the corporate social responsibility (CSR) landscape, where most companies will shift their focus from external audiences towards internal stakeholders. The “old CSR” model of cutting a check and writing a press release will no longer meet expectations, requiring companies to develop sustained, genuine, and integrated employee engagement initiatives. As companies in high-growth industries compete for talent among socially-minded millennials, employees will increasingly expect - and demand - programs that are truly integrated into the business and not simply an add-on or an effort to offset negative externalities. Related to this trend is the expectation that the private sector will need to lead social change as confidence in governments wanes significantly. For employees disillusioned by the incoming administration, their demands to work at places of principal will become more important than ever. Ultimately, these trends will enable the private sector to move into a more meaningful and sustainable next level of CSR where social change and business results are more strategically and thoughtfully linked.