The late former U.S. Speaker of the House, Thomas P. 'Tip' O'Neil is credited with coining the phrase "all politics is local." Fair enough. We know politicians often perform on a grand and global scale, but in the end voters mostly care about how well elected officials address the daily concerns that affect our lives -- our job, home, schools and neighborhood. So, too, with corporations that seek to attract and retain high-quality talent. Workers know companies need to deliver overall growth and profitability, but they increasingly want to be part of an organization that makes a difference in their local community. That's where corporate communications comes in. Employees, particularly millennials, care about management's commitment to the change they want to see in the world and how it will be addressed. It's a thoughtful question that deserves a thoughtful answer.
The Changing Nature of CSR
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) today has moved well beyond writing an annual check to a firm's nonprofit of choice and walking away until next year. Workers expect to see a whole variety of ways in which they can get involved in a company's CSR efforts on a regular and on-going basis.
Those old-school year-end charity solicitations have, in many cases, been replaced or supplemented by workers who opt for monthly paycheck donations to an array of approved community partners, often buoyed by a company matching gift. And that once-a-year massive employee volunteer day -- say, cleaning up a park -- has for many firms been supplanted by regular involvement by workers donating time at local programs important to them.
According to Kathy Bloomgarten of Fortune magazine, 'More than 50% of millennials say they would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values, while 90% want to use their skills for good.' Knowing this, it's vital for senior leaders to 'walk the talk' when designing, building and communicating their CSR program to employees. Current workers you're seeking to retain and those you're hoping to recruit don't want lip service about your passion for lofty social goals. They want hands-on programs and activity. They want to be engaged.
How to Make CSR Work for Your Corporate Communications System and the Community
While funding is and always will be a priority, many nonprofit agencies, especially smaller ones, can benefit greatly from the expertise volunteers bring from the corporate world. Serving on a nonprofit board of directors, or contributing as an advisor on financial, marketing and other matters, can be a tremendous service to community organizations. Several nonprofit execs have told me this type of support is often more cherished than trying to coordinate 150 company volunteers all coming in one day to repaint a daycare center (not that THAT effort isn't also appreciated greatly!). Think about ways to allow employees to donate their time and knowledge, not just money, and spread this information using your corporate communications system.
Once established, managers need to be sure they're educating employees about the company's CSR program. Creative and consistent internal communications are key to raising awareness of what your firm offers and how workers can get involved. Corporate communicators need to use all tools at their disposal, including blogs, social media, video, and webinars, as well as more traditional platforms like email and newsletters, to get the word out. Instead of just listing names, shine a spotlight on your community partners so workers can better understand what they do and how volunteers can help. Bring in local nonprofit spokespeople for a 'lunch & learn session' to talk to employees directly about the good work their organization does.
If your company's idea of CSR is just to write a check and forget about it, don't be surprised if employees start checking out. Make corporate social responsibility real for your colleagues. Make it personal. Make it local.