Corporate Social Responsibility

By:Perri Petricca Issue: Conscious Capitalism Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

Makes Good Business Sense

Corporate Social

How times have changed! Major law firms across the country are actually paying first year associates – salary and benefits – to not work at their firms but, rather, to pursue full-time work for a non-profit for a year. The economic recession has impacted business to a point where law firms do not currently need an influx of new lawyers, but these same firms know that the economy will rebound and they will need new talent when it does.

Other companies, from large financial companies to small construction firms, from health care conglomerates to biotech companies on the cutting edge of research, have formalized volunteer programs with the singular goal of providing change in their communities – to transform people’s lives through the power of their collective effort, that both inspires a spirit of citizenship and corporate responsibility.

These are just a few examples of how companies are building Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives into their business plans. In the past, businesses large and small would engage in philanthropy based upon a sense of responsibility to their community. Today, with greater competition for customers and for talent both nationally and internationally, CSR is proving to be a powerful tool not only for community engagement but for bottom line success.

These sophisticated, coordinated CSR strategies serve a dual purpose: they assist in efforts to recruit and retain talent while also making a philanthropic contribution to the community. More and more employers – of various industries and various sizes with various missions – are realizing that this makes good business sense.

A new report by the Massachusetts Business Roundtable (MBR), in collaboration with the Emerging Leaders Program, an executive training program at University of Massachusetts Boston, documents significant shifts over time in corporate philanthropy, and concludes that CSR has emerged as a critical strategy for employers looking to recruit and retain talent. The report, “Corporate Social Responsibility and Employee Recruitment and Retention: A Primer,” finds that, “As more and more companies try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, they must treat Corporate Social Responsibility as far more than charity. CSR must be a core component of their business model.”

“As more and more companies try to differentiate themselves from their competitors, they must treat Corporate Social Responsibility as far more than charity. CSR must be a core component of their business model.”

The report continues MBR’s history of exploring issues of corporate philanthropy and sharing its findings with the broader business community. It not only confirms that CSR is an important strategy for the recruitment and retention of talent, but it provides a useful tool for employers who are looking to use CSR more strategically as an integral part of their business plans. The report is based upon interviews with 20 Massachusetts companies, predominantly large employers, representing a cross-section of industries. It compiles current CSR best practices and provides a variety of examples of how employers are using CSR more strategically as an integral part of their business plans. The following five key findings of best practices are drawn from the report’s recommendations:

Create and Maintain a Clear Link to the Company’s Mission and Secure Executive Endorsement.

Corporate leaders emphasize that CSR is central to their corporate cultures. Philanthropic decisions are inextricable from the companies’ business decisions, and these decisions flow from the top down and from the bottom up.

A good example comes from the experience of Wainwright Bank & Trust Company. For over two decades, Wainwright has been steps ahead of the industry with a socially progressive agenda like no other bank in the country. When many of the 14,000 banks in existence when Wainwright was founded in 1987 were devoting themselves to maximizing only the financial bottom line, Wainwright was planning a strategy that would depend not only on doing well but also going good. The Bank’s social justice platform, its second bottom line, is fueled by the business platform, and in turn its social justice initiatives helped fuel business – they are mutually supportive. The Bank’s many progressive initiatives have helped it acquire over $820M in assets.

Engage Employees at all Levels as Decision Makers and Leaders in Regard to CSR Targets and Activities.

Corporate Social

Corporate philanthropy and volunteer programs are opportunities for employees from throughout the company to become engaged citizens, both with their communities and with each other. Well designed programs provide mechanisms for garnering input from employees and give employees choices as to how they might contribute. Recognizing that executive leadership will set the general direction for a corporation’s CSR programs, employees should play a central role in helping to define and refine these programs. Employees can help identify specific projects worthy of corporate investment. They can provide constructive feedback once a CSR program is launched as they participate, witness its impact and consider how the program might be improved.

Over the last ten years, IBM has been one of the largest corporate contributors of cash, equipment and people to non-profit organizations and educational institutions across the U.S. and around the world. One of its strategies is to team up with employees to support organizations they care about in the communities in which they live and work. IBM provides support to employees who volunteer their personal time to community projects. This support from the employer both encourages and sustains corporate philanthropy through volunteerism.

Leverage Employees’ Skills and Their Ability to Make Positive Contributions to the Community.

Employees deploying their skills to benefit a community can give them confidence in the positive contributions they can make and help the community see the employees – and the corporation – in a new light. At Unistress Corporation, part of Petricca Industries, “in-kind” contributions have enabled a sense of ownership in the organization’s CSR strategy by leveraging the company’s biggest asset, its employee skill base. As a manufacturer of precast/prestressed concrete products and specialists in road construction and large-scale highway infrastructure, Petricca’s employees have unique skills in construction and heavy equipment operation. Employees are often called upon to utilize their experience in non-traditional ways that benefit the community they live in. Whether clearing land or constructing playgrounds, the employees are encouraged to participate by leveraging their expertise as machinery operators and engineers. Not only do Petricca’s employees feel proud about the contributions they made to their hometown of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, community members witness first-hand the skill required to operate heavy machinery – and saw these crewmen, and their employer, with new appreciation.

Provide Opportunities for Employees to Develop New Skills.

CSR programs provide valuable opportunities for employees to become engaged in new ways. When employees take on new roles that are different from the ones they hold at their corporation, they are learning new skills, and their coworkers can recognize different strengths that might not be obvious in the workplace. CSR can help make a company a workplace of choice.

Since 2000, EMC Corporation has supported programs in the U.S. that encourage K-12 students, especially girls and underrepresented minorities, to pursue their interest in science and technology. Through its partnership with North High School in Worcester, Massachusetts, EMC is the corporate partner to the Technology and Small Business Community, providing volunteer assistance in the classroom and sponsorship of other education programs, such as robotics partnerships, across the state. These initiatives allow employees to develop skills outside of their professional expertise and provide EMC with a valuable experience with their next generation of potential workers.

Encourage Teamwork Through Group Volunteer Programs.

Group volunteer programs allow team members to work with each other in new ways. By working together on projects outside of the office, employees can gain a better understanding of their co-workers and appreciate talents that may not be apparent within the work environment.

has a longstanding legacy of community giving and developing community partnerships. For example, with their bright blue t-shirts and BlueCrew logo, andmore than 1,000 volunteers strong, the BCBSMA volunteer corps is a familiar sight and a highly sought-after team. Over the years, the BlueCrew has built a Habitat for Humanity house, helped City Year run a school vacation camp, helped a community health center hold a women’s health summit, provided mentoring services for the Blue Scholars program, decorated elder care residences, and raised money for dozens of organizations. These experiences have brought BCBSMA employees together in new ways that benefit them, their employer, and the community.

In addition to defining these best-practices, the report suggests components of corporate citizenship that can help maximize the impact of a company’s CSR efforts, including:

Forming Meaningful Partnerships with Non-profits. When companies and charities form partnerships, the results can be more visible to the employees and yield significant benefits both for the non-profit and the larger employer.

Using Core Competencies – Donate Skills as Well as Money. There are many cases in which employees can leverage unique skills that can often be out of reach for many non-profits and has the added benefit of being a tangible, visible contribution.

Working with a Non-profit on Issues that Align with Business Objectives. For organizations that are just beginning to explore a formalized CSR program, it is recommended that they first focus on issues that align well with their business objectives.

Learning from Mission-Driven Organizations. For some organizations, the social mission is in fact the corporate mission. Current thought leaders in the CSR space suggest that an innovation transformation in which corporations are refocusing resources on social needs is already underway.

Developing best practices requires commitment on the part of the corporation. In the best cases, a team of stakeholders within the corporation are driving the development of formal programs to engage all employees in the corporation’s philanthropic and volunteer programs. Smart leaders understand that this has positive impacts on the recruitment and retention of employees, on the community, and on the company’s bottom line. Even in a down economy, it is important for companies to keep their eye on long-term goals and keep CSR as part of their strategic mix.

Perri Petricca is the CEO of Pittsfield-based Petricca Industries and Chair of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable’s Task Force on Corporate Social Responsibility.