Businesses often used to see corporate social responsibility activities as, at best, a charitable good deed, at worst, a financial liability. But thankfully, times have changed, and CSR has moved on. Modern CSR partnerships between corporates and charities can boost social and economic performance for both parties. But how can your nonprofit attract the right corporate supporters and prove your value as a partner, while remaining true to your mission? With the help of the experts at whatimpact, we’ve reviewed all the key recent CSR research to find the key takeaways for nonprofits.
1. Ensure your missions align
According to one study, old-style CSR is out, and ‘corporate social integration’ is in. “When choosing causes to support, companies with strategic CSR are looking for those that align closely with their own social mission and values,” says whatimpact CEO Tiia Sammallahti.
We know that short-term initiatives and loose tie-ups between charities and corporates do not create lasting results. Research suggests that superficial CSR governance can even generate a ‘legitimacy gap’ for companies where they fall short of the public’s expectations, which can harm investor and consumer trust.
To ensure any potential partnership is truly aligned, speak to corporates about what their organisation and yours want to see changed. Surveys show that over three quarters (78%) of people today want to see companies address social justice issues, while sustainability and environmental causes are also high on the agenda for corporates right now. If your nonprofit is working in these areas, even if they’re not your core purpose, you should be well placed to garner support. Consider which of your activities are likely to strike a chord with corporates’ people and purpose, and be sure to share those stories.
2. Help their community
Practical considerations like companies’ geographical interests and area of operation also influence their choice of charity, notes Sammallahti. Many companies are looking to benefit their own immediate community or region – in which case, being a small, local charity can be a positive advantage.
Be clear about where you operate and the communities you benefit. It may pay to research and connect with local or regional companies whose social values or environmental targets complement to your own, and upsell your proximity.
3. Be ready to demonstrate ROI
Companies have a lot to gain from working with nonprofits. Analysis of 200 studies has shown that companies with strong CSR programmes enhance their brand reputation, increase their market value and better appeal to investors and consumers, along with enjoying many other positive associations such as higher employee engagement and productivity.
However, another paper found that while CSR involvement can have a positive influence on firms’ overall financial performance, not all programmes have a significant effect. So smart corporate CSR teams will be looking for the most efficient activities to place their time and investment in, to maximise their ROI.
Companies want to see a clear impact from your partnership – so make sure you have the monitoring and reporting tools in place to deliver on this. When embarking on a project, discuss upfront what problem-solving approaches will be used, and how results will be measured. A modern CSR relationship should be strategic – and backed up with evidence to prove its ROI.
4. Offer different support routes
Successful corporate/charity collaborations don’t have to be just about money. “Combining your resources and finding different ways to work together makes partnerships more dynamic, interactive and tangible,” says Sammallahti.
For example, company offering your nonprofit a financial contribution could make that go further by also donating useful products or services. That could help you save on costs elsewhere, and allow them to contribute in other meaningful ways besides money. On the other hand, if a company is offering free skills training and business advice to grow your charity, it’s worth asking if they could also make a monetary donation towards implementing their recommendations.
5. Make a statement together
One study showed higher levels of perceived effort and long-term commitment around CSR lead to more positive customer responses to corporates, as well as a willingness to pay premium prices, protection during times of crisis and profitability. So it’s in corporates’ interests to work with you long-term – if you can find the right common ground.
Sammallahti notes that corporates may be willing to take ‘ownership’ of a particular cause to make a statement about what they stand for. “This is an opportunity for certain charities, perhaps with niche causes or those surrounded by stigma, to gain long-term partnerships,” she says. “But it requires the right kind of communication from charities – and understanding that the corporate may wish to create a holistic story around these ‘statement’ partnerships, as part of their brand building.”