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The Authenticity of Corporate Social Responsibility

Not every positive impact program is created equal. The truth is that some programs have higher levels of engagement, resonate with stakeholders more and have a bigger impact. The most important success factors are trust and authenticity.

According to new research, employees generally view CSR programs in two different lights:

  1. Substantive CSR: Initiatives that are purely driven by a desire to help its target, such as a non-profit benefitting from a volunteer event. These programs are seen as authentic and genuine.
  2. Symbolic CSR: Initiatives that are driven with a goal of benefitting the organization, and are therefore self-serving. Employees have a negative view of these programs and believe they have been to developed just to make the company look good. These programs are often categorized as “Greenwashing.”

Most CSR initiatives don’t neatly fall into one of these two buckets and company leaders recognize the civic, financial and marketing benefits of these programs. However, the way that that employees view their companies’ CSR efforts is much simpler and they will quickly and easily categorize programs into one of the two categories above.

Doing Good by Building Trust

In the age of the internet, where news can be spun, published and shared so easily, we have all finely-tuned our BS meters and are craving authenticity. CSR and sustainability leaders need to work harder than ever to show employees that their programs and initiatives are substantive and genuine.  Make your motives and intentions clear from the start and encourage employees to get involved.

The best way to build trust and run programs that employees view as substantive is to develop and communicate your CSR and sustainability initiatives in close alignment with your organization’s mission, vision and values.

Your employees need to know what causes are most important to the organization and why it’s a priority. Maybe you’re a software company that invests time and resources into local STEM education. Or perhaps you’re in the hospitality industry and environmental sustainability is a priority because there are clear paths to reduce your water usage and carbon footprint.

Build trust with your employees by keeping your focus narrow and targeted. By communicating why initiatives, events and programs are developed and focusing on a handful of important issues, employees will understand that the company truly cares about these issues and wants to make an impact.