10 Steps to a Successful Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

On February 28, Loyola’s Baumhart School of Business held its 3rd Annual Leading for Good Summit. Gathering the top business and nonprofit leaders who are at the intersection of social purpose and business strategy, the day-long summit featured panels and discussions around inspiring change, and celebrated how doing good leads to new business opportunities. The bottom line: if your business doesn’t have an active corporate social responsibly strategy, you better get on board. Here, 10 steps to building a winning CSR program.

Leading for Good Opening Remarks. From left: Seth Green/Baumhart Center, Kevin Lofton/CommonSpirit, Desirée Rogers/Black Opal Beauty, Glen Tullman/Livongo.

1. Start with an Inspiring Leader

CEOs are truly torch bearers, so if your leader is not actively engaged and committed to social responsibility, the change will never happen. This shift is truly inspired from the top down. In the opening panel, Desiree Rogers, CEO of Black Opal Beauty, Glen Tullman, Founder and Executive Chairman of Livongo Health and Kevin Lofton, CEO of CommonSpirit Health, discussed how they all had a personal “ah-ha” moment in their careers that pushed them to shift business towards a social goal. Having a leader with a personal passion for helping others will drive others to advance the greater good.

2. Recruit the Next Generation

The up-and-coming generation is actively engaged in social responsibility in their personal and professional lives. They push the desire to be engaged, expect the same from their company and if a business has an active social mission with meaningful volunteer opportunities, it will attract the right kind of passionate talent through the door.

3. Empower Employees

Learning opportunities really make all of the difference in empowering employees. Offering opportunities to learn and develop new insight will not only improve their skill set but help them feel valued. From community outreach to customer insights, never refuse a meaningful learning opportunity.

4. Forge Powerful Connections

It’s smart for businesses to partner with established nonprofits to meet their social responsibility goals. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the partnership has to be a give-give; the nonprofit has to give a little, and the business has to do the same. Be clear with the goals and don’t ask each other to move too far from your “safe lane,” recommended Joe Higgins, Director of External Affairs at Comcast.

5. Be Creative

Partnerships are not one size fits all: Creativity and strategy are required to establish a successful program that really stands out. Think outside of the box. Marie Trzupek Lynch, President and CEO of Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, recommends you “start small, pilot test and then you can grow.” Once you have a vetted program, you can provide opportunities that empower and transfer in a meaningful way to the community.

Loyola Leading for Good CSR Summit 2020
Accelerating Impact, Together: The Keys to Nonprofit-Business Leadership breakout session. From left: Sean Garrett/United Way of Metro Chicago, Jenna Daugherty/Abbott, Marie Trzupek Lynch/Skills for Chicagoland’s Future, Annie Gross/KPMG US, Joe Higgins/Comcast, Angela Williams/Easterseals.

6. Prioritize Being of Value

Of course, all businesses want to be profitable, but what true success is really about is being of value. Establishing your business as a trusted resource should be top of mind in a CSR strategy. How do you do this? “Look at what you want to achieve, then look at who can help and the trusted community partners you can align with to establish yourself,” said Angela Williams, President & CEO of Easterseals.

7. Recognize That Customers Drive Purpose

You need to invest in the health of your customer base — whether that is financial, mental or physical — as it is truly tied to all aspects of your business.  “Your customer base wants you to care,” said Marisa Walster, Senior Director at Financial Health Network. Understanding what values are important to your client base and making their needs the core of your CSR will lead to loyalty, satisfaction and referrals.

8. Profit with Purpose

At some point, a business might have to make the decision to sacrifice profit margins in order to make a product more accessible or do right by its customer base. This may involve creating a separate market for products that allow you to do good, or simply recognizing that the good you do is well worth the loss.

9. Don’t Forget to Look Inward

Is your office still using plastic cups? Are you supporting minority vendors? When evaluating external sustainability opportunities, don’t forget to look at your own footprint.

10. Turn Talk into Action

Sustainable, eco-friendly, organic — these are all marketing buzzwords that are commonplace now. If your organization really wants to make an impact, make sure that you are creating real change with your social responsibility plan. Successful programs are able to market their achievements through action, rather than flashy marketing campaigns.


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Macaire Douglas lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and two sons, and covers the Weekend 101 and monthly Recommended Events features. She proudly supports Save Abandoned Babies Foundation, a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that works tirelessly to prevent the illegal abandonment of newborns nationwide. Since its inception in 2000, more than 3,600 newborns have been safely surrendered and adopted into loving homes.