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Five elements of the best CSR programs

Research that we conducted at Impakt earlier this year revealed that corporations that are considered leaders in terms of business performance take a common approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR).

(Photo: Bill Miles/Image Source)

Research that we conducted at Impakt earlier this year revealed that corporations that are considered leaders in terms of business performance take a common approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR). We found five interrelated criteria that form a new blueprint for how corporations can maximize their investments in CSR: business-based social purpose, clear theory of change, quality and depth of information, concentrated effort, and partnering with experts.

1. Business-based social purpose: Leadership-level CSR programs always directly reflect what the business is and what it does. Campbell’s Nourish illustrates how an innovative CSR initiative can reinforce the company’s business purpose and seamlessly leverage its operational competencies.

2. Clear theory of change: CSR leaders develop proprietary approaches to drive measurable social change. 3M Canada’s Healthy Communities program was designed to spark systemic change in the interrelated areas of education, health and the environment by influencing government and academic leaders. The program also engages young people through national partnerships with leading not-for-profit organizations.

3. Quality and depth of information: Leadership comes from providing employees, customers and external stakeholders with a significant depth of information about the social issue through credible research, white papers, videos, stories, social media, and so on. IBM’s Smarter Planet is a best practice in this area.

4. Concentrated effort: Leadership is shown by corporations that focus their efforts on one social issue and align all their internal and external resources with this issue. Procter & Gamble focuses on helping children in need around the world. Since 2007, P&G has improved the lives of more than 210 million children through initiatives such as Protecting Futures, which helps vulnerable girls stay in school, and Hope Schools, which increases access to education in rural areas of China.

5. Partnering with experts: Leadership requires establishing a high degree of credibility. This is best done through relationships with social issue experts and not-for-profit organizations. Starbucks hosted a “Cup Summit” at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to bring together municipalities, raw materials suppliers, cup manufacturers, retail and beverage businesses, recyclers, non-government organizations and academic experts to share ideas for making paper and plastic cups more broadly recyclable.

The points above are excerpts from an article I wrote about leadership in CSR that can be found on Forbes.