Don’t be afraid of talking about Corporate Social Responsibility

Partly in response to my post about the growing importance of appropriate communications on a company’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts, the Textifying blog over at Arizona State University (sorry there’s no bio page and the post was written by ‘tburns’ – and I tried to leave a comment but couldn’t) published a post entitled: Socially Responsible Communication Methods.

Among other things, the author expresses their conflict at the idea of an organization communicating or promoting its CSR work:

In a way, the idea of “promoting” the good a company does reminds me of people who only do generous things so they can brag about it later and create the image of a genuinely nice person. This defeats the purpose of giving and destroys the definition of a true “kind soul.”

First off let me say that I am delighted that they wrote this post.  As I mentioned previously there’s far too little discussion on the PR implications of CSR, so it’s great they took the time to share their views.

However, I should also point out that I disagree with their sentiment, and let me explain why.

Every commercial organization, regardless of its location, business or size has a social responsibility.  Why? Because every business, whether directly through its operations or indirectly through its staff is part of the local community and broader society. 

In general, good CSR means aligning corporate responsibility to the organization’s business strategy.  This is important for a number of reasons.  If CSR is aligned, then it can have a positive impact for the business – it will therefore create value and will be sustainable over the long term – that’s how CSR can deliver real measurable impact. 

Today stakeholders; from investors, to customers, employees and investors want to know what companies are doing in the community and society at large. If we can agree that it makes sense to align CSR efforts to the core business, then it becomes a central element of what that business does. That’s why communication is important.

CSR is about more than philanthropy – albeit that’s an important element.  CSR is about being a responsible business.  It’s about good corporate governance, ethics, being a great employer, reducing environmental impact and many other elements. But let’s focus on philanthropy for a moment.  In my experience, the value a company brings to a non-profit organization is three fold.  The first, and most obvious is financial support, but in many cases the expertise and resources a company can bring to bear through a strong partnership is often more important.

Companies can often help nonprofits broaden the reach and impact of their communications – raising awareness and helping them increase their effectiveness. Of course, that communication should be appropriate and transparent, but companies should not be embarrassed to tell people how they are constructively being a responsible citizen. Indeed companies, in my view, should be up front about their commitment to CSR, about how they are measuring their efforts and how they are tracking against their commitments.

There are risks.

We live in a far more transparent world where companies need to be wary of sacrificing goodwill for short term publicity.

But doing well by doing good, is not only accepted as good business practice, it’s becoming an imperative. That’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

Now given that I work in communications for Microsoft’s Corporate Citizenship efforts, you should expect me to be an advocate.  But then I see the incredible work that we and other companies do every day in partnership with nonprofits – work that positively impacts people and communities all over the world.

Communicating a company’s commitment to CSR or Corporate Responsibility or Corporate Citizenship is not only a good thing, it’s a vital thing.

Agree or disagree?

Leave a comment or ping me on Twitter at @tpemurphy.