Positive Impact on Society: Communicating Your CSR Initiatives

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Millennials are now the largest generation represented in the U.S. workforce, constituting more than 50 million employees, according to Pew Research, and they want different things from their workplace than the generations before them did. They put a high value on making a positive impact on society, and they'd prefer to work for organizations that share their values and standards for a successful organization.

According to a report from the ADP Research Institute The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace, "today's workers are increasingly motivated to work by more than just earning a paycheck. Largely, employees are looking to work on projects that are personally meaningful, have a positive impact on society, and benefit people's well-being."

If Millennials think an organization has no purpose beyond profits, that organization may have a harder time recruiting and retaining them.

Start Spreading the CSR News

Even if your organization is committed to making a positive social impact, that's only part of the battle. In order to attract and retain the increasing number of employees who care deeply about corporate social responsibility (CSR), not to mention reaching stakeholders such as investors and customers (you want to attract and retain them, too, of course), you'll need to communicate your CSR activities effectively. Without a good communication strategy, nobody knows what you're doing.

Here are five steps to highlight your CSR success:

1. Be Proactive Rather Than Defensive

Whether you're engaging your employees or your customers with CSR-related communication, you don't want to be seen as defensive. The context of the communication is important, especially because stakeholders are increasingly cynical about corporate motives these days (Millennials are perhaps the most cynical). You should be committed to communicating your CSR initiatives and engaging in dialogue all year, every day, not just in response to an emergency.

2. Align Your Social Impact Initiatives With Your Core Business

Don't take a scattershot approach to CSR initiatives. Instead, focus on core strengths and activities that directly link with your brand and your stakeholders. Select initiatives that have the potential to engage your employees, intrigue your customers and enhance your brand image.

Coca-Cola, for instance, has invested more than $100 million dollars in research to reduce the energy consumption of the refrigerators that keep its beverages cold. Not only does this investment help reduce a major cost for the retailers of Coca-Cola, but it reduces carbon emissions, too.

3. Tell Stories Based on Quantifiable Impact

Cute photos of smiling, diverse employees volunteering are great, but quantifying your impact is more powerful. You measure your business initiatives by return on investment, so do the same with social impacts. Footwear producer Timberland sets an annual CSR target for reducing its carbon footprint, posting progress on its website, such as the following:

"We had a 9% reduction in GHG emissions compared to 2013 (15,874 vs. 17,514), which is a 46% reduction over our 2006 baseline. This decrease can be attributed to lower energy usage in several of our European and Asian sites, and a decrease in emissions related to employee air travel."

It's hard to argue with statistics.

4. Adopt Multimedia Approaches

The days of writing a press release and sending it to your local news outlets are far gone. Communications platforms are everywhere. Did one of your employees volunteer for a charitable road race? Have them take photos, write a Facebook post, craft a blog post for your intranet or make a video for use on your company website.

Instead of saving your CSR messages for the annual CSR report, why not chop them into multiple blog posts throughout the year or a series of CSR videos? IBM, for example, devotes part of its website to showing how its technology "can improve the systems of how we teach and how we learn," posting videos, interviews, research white papers and case studies about the success of their CSR. The Evolution of Work notes that social media will become an increasingly important platform to communicate work-related messages like CSR initiatives, both internally and externally.

5. Customize for Your Stakeholders

Different audiences have differing expectations for CSR-related communication. To engage your employees, for example, show how their participation drives positive social change. For potential job candidates, highlight the organization's long-term commitment to making a positive social impact. For investors, emphasize how CSR activities enhance brand value. Knowing the various perspectives of your stakeholders, and customizing your message and channels accordingly, will reap large rewards.

It's not enough to have great CSR initiatives if nobody hears about them. HR leaders need to develop a communication strategy that aligns CSR initiatives with core business values and shares CSR "success stories" with relevant stakeholders through a variety of channels.

Follow the five suggestions above, and you'll be doing just that.

For more information on the importance on communicating purpose beyond just profits, download the report: The Evolution of Work: The Changing Nature of the Global Workplace.