Nonprofit Social Responsibility

by Karin Bloomquist

social-impactIn the nonprofit sector, social responsibility takes many forms. Solid research is rare because most articles focus on the benefits to corporations; however, there are many positive outcomes that come from nonprofit CSR such as increased identification, more favorable perceptions among key publics, increased volunteerism and positive word of mouth as well as the power to influence political agendas. The accountability that social responsibility initiatives offer to corporations can also be applied to nonprofit organizations. Transparency in social impact reporting, governance, ethics and communication are key to making nonprofit organizations successful.

A lot of practices are already in use in nonprofit organizations. Recycling and adopting environmentally friendly practices, such as printing on two-sides of office paper and reducing power consumption, were cited as practices used by nearly two-thirds of nonprofits; however, a lot of nonprofits tend to avoid the phrase ‘corporate social responsibility’ because it is believed to be associated with corporate terminology and suggests a stigma that is associated with running things like a business. Most nonprofits will only use the phrase internally or when they are working on corporate partnerships.

The nonprofit sector also faces many ethical issues. These include areas such as compensation; conflicts of interest; publications and solicitation; financial integrity; investment policies; and accountability and strategic management. This is why social impact reporting is essential to the operations of nonprofit organizations—it builds credibility and trust as well as encourages accountability and transparency in conduct. A recent survey of nonprofits found that only about one third of employees believed that their workplace had a well-implemented ethics and compliance program. To address these issues, nonprofit organizations need better institutional oversight, greater public education, and more transparent and inclusive performance measures. Program effective and ways to measure the organization’s social impact should a top priority for the sector.

SocialImpact_Graphic1Communicating effectiveness through social impact reporting can strengthen and support a mission statement. According to TriplePundit, an online publication on social responsibility, social entrepreneurship, green jobs, and the triple bottom line is sustainable business; there are four reasons why NGOs and nonprofits should be reporting sustainability and impact:

  1. NGOs and nonprofit organizations have a footprint and are ethically obligated to reduce their footprint as much as possible
  2. NGOs and nonprofit organizations cannot demand from corporations what they are not willing to do themselves (e.g. transparency, accountability, full disclosure on operations)
  3. NGOs and nonprofit organizations can benefit from increased cost savings as a result of reporting metrics from social impact and sustainability efforts
  4. NGOs and nonprofit organizations can attract more prestigious talent and donors to their organization and allow investors to see them as reputable and credible

As nonprofits get more engaged with social impact reporting, they will have an annual, structured process for stepping back and assessing intentions, outcomes, vision and the practical results of social programs. Organizations who partake will be able to have a competitive advantage over other nonprofits in the market that do not; therefore, this is an area of interest that all nonprofit organizations should be paying attention to, if they are not doing so already.