Blogs & Comment

When CSR should be risky business

The key to improving social purpose programs? Integration and communication.


Aligning business purpose and social purpose is a cornerstone for better CSR. Examples of this include pharmaceutical companies investing in health care organizations that align with their therapeutic products, financial institutions supporting financial literacy, and electrical utilities providing free electricity to low income people.

This isn’t rocket science – it just makes good business sense and feels like the right thing to do. Aligned programs that are integrated at an operational level and well communicated internally and externally are usually very effective. (In the work we do at Impakt, this is almost always the starting point for designing and improving social purpose programs.)

CSR, however, is starting to feel ubiquitous. Even thoughtfully planned and well executed programs aren’t always delivering adequate business and social returns. In this context, sometimes it’s worth considering what it would take for your company to make a profound difference to a social issue that really matters – regardless of its alignment with who your company is and what it does. Is this the right approach for you? Here are five questions that will help assess your risk-tolerance to non-aligned CSR.

1. Does our company have the courage to stake it’s reputation on a long term commitment to an issue that’s of real consequence but has little or no direct impact on our employees and customers?

2. Is our leadership 100% on side?

3. Are we prepared to defend our actions to employees, investors and others who don’t “get” what we’re doing?

4. Would we feel proud that a newspaper featured an article about what we’re doing or would this seem too risky?

5. Can we measure the results as needed to demonstrate the social outcomes of our investment?

This territory isn’t for everyone. However, if your company is innovative, audacious and fearless its CSR initiatives should be as well.