How Brand Leaders Can Approach Corporate Social Responsibility Efforts

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We on the Rolling Stone Culture Council have been asked how we and our respective businesses can pay more than lip service to the call to action of the day. There are many to be sure — top of the list at the moment would be the pandemic, the fallout from it and the world’s recovery from it. Additionally, closely followed is economic hardship and climate change.

Throw into the hopper the yearning for a more equitable society around the globe and you have the zeitgeist of the day.

The paths we are blazing as a society are of course admirable, but they require a collective effort. We are at a time where it is of the utmost importance to solve these things. We need a “We Are The World”-type effort. It is possible with great vision, inclusiveness and commitment.

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As brand leaders, we’re always looking for ways to align our brands with causes that reflect our values and amplifies that of our clients and customers. But fit requires thoughtful deliberation and collaboration. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) offers businesses an opportunity to contribute to positive collective change through a self-paced or regulated framework. Oftentimes, this means engaging in cross-sector collaborating and supporting organizations doing the day-to-day work on furthering philanthropic causes.

A quick way to gauge what causes align with your brand is to first ask your staff and clients their thoughts. Make a quick email poll to serve as a useful way to keep your company top of mind. After you get the responses, see if your brand can be true to the goals presented and ensure your supporting efforts are coming from a place of authenticity.

Simply writing a check and expecting to see co-branding on significant events and causes is not going to cut it. No, this is an opportunity for your company to be restorative and genuine. So, how then do you perform the selection of a cause that aligns with your brand’s values?

Once you have a good grasp of your employees’ and clients’ feedback regarding causes to support, ask yourself: Is your brand well-positioned to expand the awareness of these causes? Can you invest in furthering these causes and bring others on board to collaborate?

There are many NGOs that require support and investment looking for unique brands to collaborate with. Consider the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which consists of governmental and nonprofits, and various organizations. This being a non-governmental organization, the work is as limited as the donor’s nations and individuals.

Business leaders in the process of aligning their brands to make an impactful and meaningful result should consider the ways they can engage in cross-sector collaboration. If there is true alignment between brand and cause, it’s an opportunity to prioritize your brand’s involvement. Partnering with nonprofits offers brands a chance to brand alongside their goodwill efforts.

If your brand and market segment is of a nature that requires a bit more of a higher-end draw, consider efforts such as those Ralph Lauren has pursued. Successful brands like Ralph Lauren have launched many social and community initiatives to help employees, communities and the greater world. They always start with some kind of mission statement explaining why they chose to get involved and how this involvement enhances their mission as a company. They also offer opportunities for their customers to get involved and contribute. For example, their Pink Pony line of goods was specifically created for cancer awareness, and for every Pink Pony item purchased, a portion of the sales go to the Pink Pony foundation, which funds cancer research and treatment.

Or consider Earth 300, an organization in the process of building a super yacht for the exploration and distribution of scientific knowledge and collective intelligence. These higher-end approaches aim to contribute to collective global initiatives.

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Tips for Brand Leaders on CSR

It’s important to do more than dispatch some cash and digital placement on the corresponding websites and social media. Frankly, that seems to be an easy out. Your involvement requires staying up to date on the cause(s) that you have chosen. Assign an employee or others to manage contact with collaborating partners and organizations. Monitor media mentions about their work and adjust your involvement as needed. Your brand is yours to protect, so it’s important to stay in touch with any convening organizations and to be aware of any positive or negative reports. Here are some general tips to keep in mind:

1. Put in the time, effort and any necessary investment, be that capital or time. You need to put in the work before you can enact any branding opportunities. Make sure your team is involved in CSR efforts and designate certain tasks to aid these efforts. If possible, assign a few hands from your staff to work events on behalf of the cause or even create your own off-shoot brand in support.

2. Let your involvement be known on your various social media channels. You must have clear and agreed-upon messaging — your brand is your responsibility, and an NGO’s brand is theirs. We need to convey what we’re trying to accomplish — the convergence of efforts is paramount. Serve — don’t be self-serving.

3. Announce your association to the world. Going beyond the social media realm, consider sending out mailers to announce your working relationship with a cause or organization. Show what work is being done in the name of your brand to further this cause.

4. Follow up with your supportive stances. Feel good about the effort your brand is putting into these causes.

Our goal as brand leaders shouldn’t be to solve all the world’s great problems — no, it’s to assist in the addressing of solvable issues so the great mass of humanity and future inhabitants can enjoy the wonderful playground and home we have been entrusted with.

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