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Employee Pressure Will Help Redefine CSR in 2019

January 23, 2019

GlobeThis past year marked a turning point in corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts, with an increase of activism among corporate leaders and more pressure from employees urging employers to step up their philanthropic efforts. Early in the year, a piece I wrote for Blackbaud's CSR 2020: Experts Look Ahead examined trends at the intersection of employee engagement and community impact. At the time, I predicted there would be an increase in private-sector activity focused on social issues, especially as related to disaster recovery and resiliency, as well as a rise in CEO activism. Given the events of the past twelve months, it is safe to say those predictions not only proved true but have gained momentum.

Corporations as Activists

Just last month, 3BL Media and GlobeScan released survey results indicating that eight of ten corporate leaders believe companies are obligated to speak out on environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues. They also predict that, inspired by the examples of Patagonia (environmental sustainability), Microsoft (diversity and inclusion), Chobani (immigration and refugee rights), and others, more than 60 percent of CEOs will increase their ESG advocacy over the next eighteen months.

Last year, Larry Fink, who serves as CEO of BlackRock, one of the world's largest investment management firms, outlined a new model for corporate governance in his annual letter to shareholders. In his letter, Fink emphasized BlackRock's commitment to considering both financial and social performance in all its investments. As 2019 gets under way, we've also seen the mainstream business press question, in pieces in the Financial Times and Fortune, the Milton Friedman doctrine that places the maximization of shareholder value above all else. Why? While core corporate values and building brand equity certainly are factors, the main benefits cited in these and other articles are employee-focused. Respondents to the 3BL Media/GlobeScan survey believe their organizations should be motivated by a desire to demonstrate a commitment beyond profit and, in a tightening labor market, do what they can to meet the expectations of employees, who have more options to take their skills elsewhere than they’ve had in a long time.

According to the 2018 Deloitte Millennial Survey, millennials want corporate leaders to commit more aggressively to making a real impact on ESG issues while preparing their organizations (and employees) for a rapidly changing business environment. As CEOs grow increasingly vocal on important social and environmental issues, their companies will follow suit and work to demonstrate the values that employees are seeking through new philanthropic investments, volunteer programs, and community initiatives. While such activism has been modeled by some of the world's largest companies and more outspoken CEOs, companies of all sizes, across all industries, will face growing employee pressure, in 2019 and beyond, to act on issues of social and community import.

Skills-based volunteerism has already emerged as one of the most tangible, measurable connection points between employee engagement, values, and corporate community goals, with more than 50 percent of companies today offering a formal pro bono program to employees. In the next few years, we'll see more of those programs evolve past their pilot stage, embed themselves more deeply in the companies and communities in which they operate, and sharpen their focus on impact — for the nonprofit, the employee, the company, and the community.

Skills-Based Volunteerism to Build Disaster Resiliency

The past two years have seen an uptick in natural disasters across the globe and here in the United States, where communities have been battered by hurricanes, wildfires, mudslides, epic snowstorms, and earthquakes. Given the growing threat of climate change, there is little reason to believe that we  will experience fewer such events going forward. The good news is that American companies and corporations have responded to such disasters in force. Indeed, CECP Giving in Numbers: 2018 Edition showed a year-over-year increase of more than 300 percent in cash giving by corporations for disaster relief. While corporate partners have been quick to provide funding and launch employee donation drives when disaster strikes, these efforts often only address immediate relief needs. But as we've all learned, longer-term assistance for recovery and resiliency efforts also is needed — and presents an opportunity for pro bono volunteers to play a larger, more meaningful role in disaster recovery.

In the wake of a number of disasters in 2018 and 2017, Common Impact asked our partners a few critical questions: How could organizations work with employees from local companies to better equip their communities and region to deal with the next emergency? What skills and resources do they have that would best complement those of other institutions and organizations in their area? What we heard demonstrates that skills-based volunteerism and cross-sector collaboration can be a powerful way to help communities both prepare for disasters and support their ability to recover more quickly when disaster strikes.

It's a natural next step. The private sector's approach to disaster relief is grounded in service and sits within the context of a growing business imperative around climate change. For better or worse, natural disasters have become fertile testing ground for companies to band together to solve challenges larger than those they could reasonably tackle themselves.

Common Impact is hard at work shaping a more effective and efficient role for corporate volunteers and nonprofits seeking to support disaster relief and recovery efforts. Using our experience developing successful skills-based volunteer programs, our team has conducted extensive research and convened disaster response experts to better understand the critical role pro bono service can play in helping communities sustain their services, meet acute and unanticipated needs, and recover from the impact of disaster more quickly and efficiently. We believe this work can and will help the private sector move from a responsive approach to stronger, more proactive engagement.

While the business sector initiated the shift toward pairing purpose and profit, the concept will be tested again in 2019 — and the years to come. To be ready, companies need to identify their core priorities and make sure a social mandate is included in those priorities. Disasters, and the future, won’t wait.

Headshot_danielle_hollyDanielle Holly (@dholly8) is the CEO of Common Impact, an organization that helps companies and individuals invest their unique talents for environmental and social good. She is also a contributing writer to Nonprofit Quarterly, a member of the NationSwell Council, and has served on the board of directors for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network and Net Impact NYC.

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