Experts Weigh in on the Most Important Emerging Trends in Corporate Philanthropy and CSR

What are the most important trends that business leaders need to pay attention to around corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate philanthropy? Good Returns’ President Kyle Lukianuk recently moderated a panel discussion among three leading experts in the field of CSR on this increasingly important topic. The panelists included Mike Berkowitz, Co-founder and Principal of Third Plateau Social Impact Strategies; Wayne Dunn, President and Founder of The CSR Training Institute; and Paula Ivey, President and Founder of The CSR Group.

All of these experts agreed that in today’s environment CSR is necessary and beneficial to businesses, and that it is evolving—with a growing emphasis on creating real value alignment across departments and processes. Here are a few of the specific insights offered by our panelists.

The Growing Business Value of CSR

Wayne Dunn: Business worldwide is under increased pressure and expectation to create value for society, be effective stewards of the environment, and produce value for shareholders. What that is doing is forcing smart businesses to create more alignment between social value creation and shareholder value.

Paula Ivey: Companies are realizing strategic CSR makes sense for their business. The number one driver for businesses engaging in CSR is managing risk. That risk can manifest in everything from brand equity, reputation risk, environmental risk, to risk in their supply chain.

Mike Berkowitz: There is an ever-present drive to be more and more socially conscious. It is enough right now to improve your practices, to have a good corporate philanthropy program, to do matching of charitable contributions from employees, and to offer volunteering opportunities. These things are all really good (but the next stage) is coming, and what we are already seeing at our own firm is that that is not enough. You hear younger employees ask more and more probing questions, really challenging (questions). How will we know that we are making a difference in the first place? We are not just here to say we do social impact. We actually want to make a difference on these issues.

The question that more and more companies (are going to have to face) in the coming years is to what extent is CSR just a set of things you can do to feel good so your employees feel good, and so you can recruit that talent? And to what extent do you have a deeper commitment to some of these things that may force you—even in the context of talent recruitment—to go further than any corporation ever has to date?

The Evolution of Impact Reporting

Paula Ivey: There has been an evolution in the impact reporting realm. Along with that evolution has come an increased expectation for more meaningful reporting and a lot of that [reporting] is expected to be much more holistic. It used to be a baseline metric of 1% of your gross sales is what you need to be giving away. That was a best practice at a minimum. But there is this trend of looking much more holistically at what a company is doing beyond giving and volunteering. It is much more integrated.

Wayne Dunn: A lot of investors are looking for sustainability reports. The cost of producing a sustainability report, even the cost of producing a full-fledged GRI global report that integrates the Sustainable Development Goals, is quickly offset both by access to additional capital and by marginal decreases in the cost of capital.

The Risks and Opportunities of Impact Storytelling

Wayne Dunn: Companies are increasingly looking to their supply chains to find [opportunities for] social impact, both positive and negative. And companies in those supply chains that are able to understand and communicate and demonstrate the impact that they are having on society and the environment are putting themselves at an advantage to be suppliers to those companies.

Mike Berkowitz: Storytelling is key for anyone engaged in social impact work. You have to have a good storytelling and communications plan and strategy alongside doing the work. To be clear, I think it is more critical to do the work well, but for the long-term sustainability of that work you have to have a strong storytelling and communications element to it. (But) when a social impact effort or CSR effort sits only in the marketing department, that is storytelling gone too far. Don’t put the story above the impact.

Watch the Full Conversation to Learn More

Our panelists also made predictions on the next big thing to emerge in CSR and speculate on the influence created by future generations. Watch their entire conversation to hear more of their analysis and insights.