Making an Impact: Essential Pillars of a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

Corporate Social Responsibility

Over the last several years, we have lived through the COVID-19 pandemic, social justice awareness and activism, global conversations about climate change, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. These issues are on the minds of our prospects and customers, and they want to buy from brands that will make a lasting impact and build brighter futures through service to their communities and action on social and environmental issues. In fact, 77% percent of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world a better place and 55% of U.S. consumers believe it’s important for brands to take a stand on key social, environmental, and political issues.*

Brands are listening to consumers and leaning in to create a just and sustainable world. They are doing this through Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategies and programs that demonstrate how their brand steps up to live its mission and tackle the world’s biggest issues today. In this article, ShinePR shares four pillars central to a CSR strategy that will have a positive impact on your community, champion diversity, equity, and inclusion, increase employee pride, attract top talent, build brand trust and loyalty with consumers, and ultimately, drive and increase revenue.

1. Company-coordinated, brand aligned volunteer activity

  • The first pillar is an opportunity for a company to create a branded, ownable, and purpose-driven social responsibility program that meets corporate and social objectives – one with a long-lasting legacy.
  • Companies can build a mission-aligned, one-of-its-kind program by combining brand purpose and employee passion for giving back with a relevant and critical issue, cause, or theme. This type of program may require an investment by the company to provide a platform to focus social responsibility for maximum, measurable impact and outcomes. The program components and the beneficiaries should make sense to your brand – think about what your brand does best and how the program fits into your brand family. Consider the NFL Play 60, a wellness program created by the NFL and the American Heart Association. The program’s mission is to empower youth to be the most physically active and healthy by encouraging them to get physically active for at least 60 minutes a day. Since its launch in 2007, the program’s measurable outcomes include annual improvements in aerobic capacity and body mass index for participating youth.
  • Benefits to the brand include brand awareness, deepening community connections, ownership of impacting a specific issue, and employee sense of purpose, pride, and engagement. Another benefit is that a coordinated and organized program allows brands to harness sporadic or one-off volunteer activities and easily manage various volunteer initiatives and opportunities all under one corporate program regardless of office location.

2. Corporate grantmaking or giving

  • The second pillar in a CSR program allows companies to prioritize and support causes that align with and support the brand mission through the funding of grants. Companies can operate in-house corporate grantmaking or giving programs without forming a nonprofit foundation. They may also choose to run these programs directly through their existing foundation or one that they establish as part of their CSR program.
  • There are several models to consider. Companies may choose to pursue one approach or make grants or gifts under several approaches. The most common are strategic and responsive grantmaking.
  • Strategic: Grantmaking is guided by a philanthropic plan that defines the mission, strategic goals, and specific outcomes desired by the company (and sometimes a board that oversees the program). With this approach, companies determine a key area of focus that will be addressed and supported by the grantmaking/giving budget. Areas of focus might be climate change, food insecurity, wildlife conservation or substance abuse. Think of this approach as a long-term commitment, usually three to five years to achieve the desired, measurable outcome. Take TOMS, a shoe company. TOMS has created a signature philanthropic program aligned with its mission to improve lives and one that leverages what they do best – make shoes – to create the One for One® program that has donated 100M pairs of shoes globally.
  • Responsive: Grants or gifts awarded are influenced by community needs or current social issues. Grants can be requested by a nonprofit or community in need or companies can choose how best to award grants or gifts based on critical social issues being faced locally, nationally, or universally and budget available. COVID-19 or the war in Ukraine are two examples of responsive grantmaking – companies around the world stepped up to address the overwhelming need by responding quickly with critical aid. This type of philanthropy allows a brand to be nimbler and more open to a variety of needs that may emerge in its community. It may be the best choice for a brand whose mission serves a broad audience.
  • Benefits to the brand include shining a spotlight on good works, building trust and good will in local and underserved communities, and enhancing brand reputation in the market as a company that cares, leads with generosity, and is guided by a social impact mindset, not just the bottom line.

3. Employee financial matching gift program

  • The third pillar is designed to incentivize employees to participate in the brand’s social responsibility program and help employee contributions have even greater impact.
  • With a matching gift program, brands match an employee’s donation to select nonprofits and charities. For a program that provides a 1:1 dollar match, a $25 donation from an employee becomes a $50 donation through the corporate match. Some organizations choose to double or even triple the donation to make a larger impact in the community. Brands can choose to structure the matching gifts program around specific charities that meet corporate goals and requirements and are aligned with the causes your employees are passionate about.
  • One benefit to the brand includes employee engagement as the matching activity may inspire employees to begin charitable giving knowing their donations are matched. Additionally, these types of programs help brands retain talent – employees are more likely to stay at a company when it sets out to make meaningful contribution to the causes its people care about.

4. Establish an employee volunteer program

  • The fourth pillar leverages your employees’ passion for certain causes.
  • A volunteer program can be structured by giving employees an annual bank of hours to use toward volunteering at non-profits and charities that they choose. The hours do not count against sick or vacation days – they enable employees to step away from their desks and into their communities to give back and find more purpose in their work.
  • Benefits to the brand include increased employee participation in volunteering and giving, pride in the brand, talent retention, and internal brand ambassadors to help carry your mission (and products and services) out into the marketplace.

There is no one way to make a meaningful difference. Whether your brand participates in social responsibility on a small or large scale, you have meaningful and impactful roles to play locally, nationally, and globally. Don’t forget to engage your employees as you build your CSR program – by giving them an active role in shaping your social responsibility plan, you are supporting the wellbeing and sense of purpose of your employees. And any contributions your brand makes toward building better futures will be positively received by generations to come. As your brand prepares for 2023, it is time to ask whether this is the year you resolve to launch brand-building CSR practices.

How does your brand plan to be socially responsible next year?

*2019 Aflac CSR Survey (

Laura Wessells

Laura Wessells has been a Brand, Marketing and PR leader for more than 25 years. She co-founded ShinePR in 2020 to continue her passion of helping cause-driven brands tell their story.