by John Trybus, Managing Director
If you’ve followed the Social Strategist Project for some time you likely are already convinced as to the power companies possess to benefit the social good if they choose to do so. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is here to stay.
But what does the future hold for CSR work? What are the trends that are holding steady and what are the topics on the horizon that we should be thinking about today in order to prepare for tomorrow?
To answer those questions and more I traveled to Fenton Communications’ New York City headquarters to visit with Susan McPherson. She’s the firm’s senior vice president and director of global marketing, and yes, she’s also a social strategist.
If you don’t know about Fenton Communications, you should. It’s a different kind of public relations firm, one that focuses solely on cause-based work through its “progress accelerated” approach.
“Every single piece of business [at Fenton] has been worked on through the lens of social good,” Susan says of the firm, now in its 30th year of operation. From helping to organize Nelson Mandela’s first visit to the U.S. to raising awareness about endangered swordfish and every project in between, Fenton has furthered some major social causes by working selectively with both nonprofits and responsible companies that align with the firm’s steadfast value system.
Susan has much experience thinking about the state of CSR. She previously held positions with a number of technology companies as well as served as the vice president of CSR services at PR Newswire. She’s also the host of the weekly #CSRChat on Twitter which is definitely worth checking out.
But it’s time to get to the important stuff. Susan’s thoughts about the future of CSR, of course! Here’s a preview of what she sees on the horizon as well as some principles that won’t be changing anytime soon:
- Open the kimono! What a great line, right? In other words, it is still all about transparency. Susan says that CSR has transformed from companies who just want to benefit themselves to genuinely achieving the triple bottom line. “What we’re seeing now is companies realizing that by doing ‘good business’ they’re actually doing good business.” Open the kimono and use transparent communication to achieve both social and financial goals.
- Turn the equation around. When it comes to a nonprofit seeking a partnership (and money) from a company, that is. “Instead of asking how we can get funding as a nonprofit, ask: how can we tell the corporation what we can do for them?” recommends Susan. “Increasingly corporations are looking for ways to reach new audiences” in new ways and a nonprofit frequently brings incredible value to a company through its often highly-educated and caring stakeholders.
- Think about upcoming hot topics. Conflict minerals. Human trafficking. Those are two issues whose time has come, according to Susan. Everyone has a cell phone (which potentially was made from overseas minerals) and human trafficking is an ongoing subject of discussion. Susan recommends paying attention to what topics are particularly active in the public debate because they are natural areas for companies to join the conversation. For example, travel companies can build cause marketing programs around human trafficking since the industry plays a role in that horrible practice.
- Don’t forget employee engagement. It’s not just about the money. This is still an underutilized area of engagement by nonprofits and companies seeking to work together, Susan thinks. Her recommendation to companies looking to build volunteer programs: “It’s time to find out from your employees who they want to get behind and have a contest to determine which cause makes the most sense…have your employees build that program.”
Listen to my interview with social strategist Susan McPherson to hear more about what the future of CSR will look like and how smart companies and nonprofits wanting to work together should prepare for what’s next.