Reinventing CSR

[This post originally appeared on the Me In TV blog. Me In TV is a project I’m setting up to give young people from tough backgrounds access to the TV industry.]

Every big company has a corporate social responsibility policy.

Many of them do many good things.

But CSR is often at the bottom of everyone’s priority list because those things are perceived to be of little lasting value to the company.

There is no reason why CSR projects should not benefit the company as well as those it sets out to support.

But in order to do, CSR projects need to be rethought.

Projectzzzz

The typical CSR project model has three characteristics which restrict its potential by limiting the benefits that flow back to the company.

Such projects are ephemeral, unsustainable, and even a little embarrassing.

1. Ephemeral – once the project is over, many volunteers never think of or refer to it ever again

2. Unsustainable – taking several dozen people out of the office in one go simply cannot happen on a regular basis

3. And even a little embarrassing… – most employees are good people, but if they feel embarrassed when they don’t want to participate in a CSR project because they can’t see the point in it.

The combination of these three characteristics limit employee engagement.

When that happens, CSR projects do not fulfil their potential. They may well be seen as a drain on time, money, management attention, and morale.

No company would choose to run projects relating to their core business like this – there’s so little in it for them.

Why should CSR projects be any different? They could easily be so much more beneficial for the company as well as for those on the receiving end.

Another way

Wouldn’t it be great if even a simple CSR project – e.g. painting a mural on a wall – became a cross-departmental undertaking?

That way it could deliver all sorts of benefits:

1. Give someone who is lacking project management experience the leadership role = project management experience

2. Get them to recruit a team of volunteers = cross-functional collaboration

3. Then have the group figure out a design = collective creativity and problem-solving

4. Find people within the team to be responsible for getting the materials = resourcefulness challenge + budget management experience

5. Record the process so as to share it with the rest of the company = communication and marketing skills

What an opportunity!

At a time when training budgets are sorely stretched (or completely non-existent), this is a cheap way of developing the workforce, with a low opportunity cost and a high motivational value.

If a company ran a few of such projects a year, it would make a substantial difference to their staff’s personal development, their feelings of loyalty to the company, and ultimately to the company’s bottom line: a more skilled, more experienced, more integrated workforce can only be a good thing.

Meaningful CSR

Companies do meaningful core business projects on the one hand, and low-benefit CSR projects on the other – and the two coexist unhappily.

That schizophrenia has to be overcome.

CSR projects can be be highly beneficial for the company – the training opportunities in particular are fantastic.

To run them requires a simple change: CSR projects should be run like core business projects.

That change of approach, and the changes in attitude, opportunity and perception that result, can make all the difference.

Author: toddmgreen

I really like making internet projects. I work on apps, games and websites at a TV company. I write stuff, make stuff, and accidentally break stuff. You should probably follow me on Twitter - @toddmgreen.

What do you think?