Corporate Social Responsibility is More Than Writing a Check

By Allison Gauss
People in Hard Hats
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is now an important part of attracting both customers and talented staff. The public expects powerful companies to channel some of their resources to social good and this desire for corporations to give back even influences consumers’ buying decisions. The Nielsen Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility found that “Fifty-five percent of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact.”

The Nielsen Survey also found that 67 percent of respondents would rather work for socially responsible companies. This preference also applies to millennials, now the largest generation in the global workforce. A 2014 survey found, “of the Millennials who heard about [the company’s] cause work in the interview, 55% of them said the company’s involvement with causes helped persuade them to take the job.”

Corporate social responsibility is more important than ever, but it can’t be accomplished by simply writing a check to charity each year. For-profit businesses can make a big difference in the social sector by investing wisely and connecting people with causes that matter. The positive word-of mouth and image these actions create also benefit the corporations. Here are three ways large companies can serve society alongside their shareholders.

Partner With the Right Cause

For a corporate social good program to succeed at your organization, it’s important to find a cause that directly relates to your mission. This connection allows social impact to become another prong in your organization’s set of goals and helps the cause resonate with your employees. Without this alignment, corporate social responsibility can easily get lost among the company’s everyday operations.

SolarCity is a for-profit solar power provider that installs systems all over the United States. While their mission to provide clean and affordable energy began in the American private sector, SolarCity also saw the need in underdeveloped communities. They created the GivePower Foundation, which donates power systems and batteries to these communities. Moreover, they work with nonprofit organizations to bring power to their programs.

buildOn is an education nonprofit that builds schools in Africa, Asia, and South America, but without electricity, the schools can only operate in daylight hours. SolarCity provides free solar power systems, which enable the schools to hold adult literacy classes in the evening. buildOn can educate more people and SolarCity can pursue their mission of providing low-cost clean energy.

We’ve teamed with buildOn, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building schools in some of the economically poorest countries in the world, including Nicaragua, Haiti, Malawi, Mali, Nepal and Senegal. Through our partnership, we will train buildOn employees and work closely with local communities to install and maintain their solar power systems.”

– The GivePower Foundation

SolarCity is a great example of how a corporation can find a related cause and then partner with a nonprofit to lend their expertise and resources.

Foundations Funding Innovation

Large corporations can also create and operate far-reaching foundations that identify and fund social impact programs. This is a great option if it’s difficult to identify a cause that aligns extremely well with your company’s mission or if if you want your CSR to support innovative new ideas. Foundations can be a hub for experimental programs and cutting-edge solutions.

The Caterpillar Foundation is one of the largest corporate philanthropic arms in the world, having given more than half a billion dollars to important social causes. Their size and broad goals of bringing prosperity and security to all people allow them to fund projects in a variety of sectors. The Caterpillar Foundation has partnered with the United Nations Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, United Way,, and others.

Employee Fundraising and Volunteering

While many corporations make philanthropic gifts, nonprofits tend to rely primarily on the support of individuals, so connecting employees with causes is also an extremely powerful way for corporations to make an impact. Fortunately, peer-to-peer fundraising makes it easy for employees to create their own campaigns and get their family and friends involved. For example, here at Classy, team members often launch birthday campaigns in support of the organizations and causes we work with.

Corporations also have the opportunity to mobilize their employees to volunteer for social impact organizations. Many nonprofits, such as Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House of San Diego, offer group volunteer opportunities that are perfect for company or team bonding.

At some companies, volunteer service is organized for staff to perform on their own time, but many organizations are now offering volunteer hours as a type of paid time off. US Bank, for example, offers employees sixteen paid hours to spend on volunteer service. These designated volunteer hours make giving back a built-in part of a company’s work experience.

Consumers and employees today have higher expectations for corporate social responsibility. More and more companies are connecting people with causes and accelerating social good. Corporations looking to make a difference should begin by asking what causes align with their mission and what they can contribute. Partnerships with nonprofits, corporate foundations, and employee giving can all create a culture of cross-sector collaboration and social responsibility.

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Photo credit: Mount Rainier NPS via Visual Hunt / CC BY

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