5 Ways to Avoid CSR Disasters

1) Choose a Cause Close to Home

When choosing a cause to support it may feel like the best plan of action is to jump onto the trendy cause of the day and ride major press coverage of the issue to CSR glory. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. True CSR isn’t about jumping on the hottest trend. It’s about connecting your brand with a cause that you and your stakeholders actually care about and working together to build change in the long run.

The best way to select a CSR project is to choose something “close to home.” This could mean working on a project geographically close to home, like helping out at a local soup kitchen or cleaning up a local park, or it could mean choosing a project that is very closely related to your brand. If possible, do both. For example, if your brand sells products for women, find a cause related to women’s health or women’s rights in your area. Don’t think too far outside of the box. Simplicity makes it easier to maintain a strong connection and keep your mission on track.

2) Be Weary of Potential Partners

Businesses and nonprofits often are looking to partner with companies that are committed to corporate social reasonability. Beware; even if your intentions are good, choosing the wrong partner can lead to a CSR disaster. Just like in any business deal, it’s extremely important to do your research before throwing yourself in headfirst. How much do you really know about this potential partner’s business? Are you sure you have shared goals in common? Will there be equal value in achieving them together?

Every so often you’ll get hit with a curveball. Maybe the assumptions you launched the partnership with are proven to be incorrect. Or it could be something worse like a scandal involving your partner’s leadership team or an unpredicted product defect that leads to major bad publicity. While you may not be able to protect yourself from these types of public relations disasters, it is important to think about a plan for ending your partnership even before it begins. With this plan, you’ll be prepared for any eventuality.

3) Be Consistent

Once you choose a project or a partnership that works, stick with it for as long as possible. Long-term relationships mean much more to the perception of your brand than a couple flash-in-the-pan fundraisers. While it’s impossible to build year or decade long relationships overnight, connect with a cause that will be important in the long-term and someday you will able to say your brand was part of the solution.

 4) Include Everyone

A CEO serving food at a soup kitchen is nice. An entire office regularly running a food drive as a course of business is better. Including everyone is important for three reasons:

1) Demonstrating your commitment to CSR goes beyond the possible publicity and straight to the heart of your business.

2) Getting all employees and their families involved vastly grows the impact of any effort, helps employees see first-hand why they are participating, and often improves communication on everyday business matters.

3) People love to talk about the projects they are working on, especially when they are doing good for their communities. Get your employees and stakeholders talking about your projects and indirectly, they’ll talk about your brand.

5) Be Honest

When it comes to promoting CSR projects, honestly is absolutely the policy. Be honest with your audience, with the communities you are servicing and, most of all, be honest with yourself and your team. One lie, one inaccuracy or one half-truth will sink your project almost instantly. Between social media, cable news and hundreds of thousands of bloggers searching for the next big story, honesty and transparency are vital to the life any CSR commitment. You may make mistakes or have shortcomings, but never try to cover them up. When it comes to businesses doing good consumers care more about you trying than they do about you being perfect. A little white lie can quickly erode trust and undermine all of you future efforts.

Do you have any additional tips for avoiding CSR disasters? Let’s chat in the comments below.

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