What Will 2019 Hold For Corporate Social Impact Programs? Leading Experts Weigh In

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What Will 2019 Hold For Corporate Social Impact Programs? Leading Experts Weigh In

The only thing we can predict for sure about corporate social responsibility in the year ahead is that issues, crises and innovations will crop up that we don’t anticipate today.

On the other hand, there are wise and experienced players in our midst who do have insights into the trends impacting work at the intersection of cause and commerce. We asked a slate of leading corporate social impact experts to look into their crystal balls and share key insights for 2019.


First we asked:

What’s one social impact resolution you think all businesses should make?

For Momentum’s Mollye Rhea counsels, “As employees become more involved in CSR initiatives by taking the lead using social media platforms to share stories at an individual level, customers will hear how their purchases truly make a difference. There will be a move away from highly-branded content to authentic content that demonstrates a sense of purpose in corporate culture and business practices. This requires businesses to develop cause partnerships that truly resonate with their mission and get to their core company values.” 

The Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation’s Phil McCarty says, “Brands must embrace conscious consumerism fully and chart a course toward sustainability. Sustainability is now a key factor in the decisions consumers are making, particularly the Gen Z audience. While the demands of consumers will increase in this area, companies must understand that this is not an overnight process. It takes time, and for companies in industries like fashion and apparel, it is a long haul. Every brand cannot be a Patagonia, but every brand can and should develop strategic business goals that move the brand toward sustainable development, production, and service.”

Catalist’s Maureen Carlson shares, “It’s time to invest in social impact!  By invest, we don’t mean creating larger budgets to have more funds to donate to causes, we mean investing in your social impact team and staff. There are many things they could be doing with a little budget that can exponentially help the overall organization capitalize on the business value of corporate social impact work in the marketplace such as valuing current relationships with the nonprofits your company supports and deciding if those partnerships are truly driving social change as well as getting your corporate brand in front of a new audience and facilitating stronger relationships with your staff and consumers. Consider investing in your social impact teams in the same way you do your marketing and communications teams.”

PUBLIC Inc.’s Phil Haid advises, “Make social impact part of your business strategy. This requires creating a unified impact platform that outlines: the issue you should tackle (because your business success depends on it over the long-term), how it aligns with your short to medium-term business goals and objectives, how to engage employees and consumers, how to live it through your brand, and the measurable social and business outcomes you seek.”

Influence | SG’s Derrick Feldman offers, “To drive change on an issue, don’t forget to invest (talent, knowledge, insights, technology and/or financial resources) in building the movement of the issue that is important to the company. Social innovations need a movement to have a broader impact. Focusing only on innovation without the movement makes change short term.” 

Cone Communication’s Alison DaSilva’s advice? “Keep it positive. We’re seeing so many brands taking stands on issues and that is an incredible and important role for companies to play. But let’s keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be about “us vs. them”. We want to see more companies use their brands to be the conveners, facilitators and accelerators of bringing different stakeholders together for positive change. The more people we can unite and engage around issues, the bigger the impact.”


Then we asked:

What will be the social impact word of 2019? Why?

For Momentum’s Michele Egan suggests, “No doubt that inclusion will be a major buzzword for 2019. In a panel I led earlier this year with the Partnership for Southern Equity and Mailchimp, we discussed an impressive model for not only educating employees and but also hearing their ideas about the important role of equity and inclusion in a socially responsible company. Inclusion is more than having a diverse group of people around the table, it is actually involving these people in your decision-making process from the ground up. From a CSR perspective, inclusion is a must-have when developing new initiatives that resonate widely because who better to have at the table than those that know your brand best–your employees!”

Influence | SG’s Derrick Feldman said, “Listen. The best companies will listen to those working in the field for change, individuals affected by the issue and underrepresented populations. Before creating anything, we must first listen to determine where to begin and support strategically.”

Catalist’s Maureen Carlson’s pick is “Refresh. We know the corporate sector is doing tremendous things every day to support nonprofits and accelerate positive social change. But we also know the consumer demands more from them than ever before, and we know that consumers will reward or punish companies around their social impact or corporate social responsibility decisions.  So it’s time to be a little more strategic in what companies do and how they communicate it. It’s time to review, recalibrate and refresh your social impact strategies so you can continue to do well, while also doing good.”

The Fashion Institute of Technology Foundation’s Philips McCarty weighs in with,“Sustainability. Perhaps we alter this to say ‘Methodical Sustainability’. As stated earlier, this is not an overnight change. It’s a process, and it takes time. Consumers cannot expect a company to just ‘become sustainable’. However, they can expect companies and brands to take a methodical approach to building a more sustainable business.”

PUBLIC Inc.’s Phil Haid suggests “Leadership. Because we need way more leaders beyond the usual suspects like Patagonia, Starbucks, Unilever, Levi’s, Chobani, and JPMorgan Chase to step up and speak out on the pressing social issues facing our country and the world. Business is a force for good in the world when profit and purpose align. The more corporate leaders embrace this, the better off we will all be.”

Cone Communications’ Alison DaSilva’s vote: “Brave. Brave means having the courage to participate in the social movements created by others (whether that’s March for Our Lives or #MeToo). It means finding your corporate voice on hot-button issues and standing by that stance in the face of criticism or backlash. And finally, brave is about taking risks to drive your company’s social impact agenda forward because you know it’s the right thing to do instead of because you have to (due to regulation).”

What are the key insights that you think will influence the CSR scene this year?    Please share your ideas — and have a great year working to realize greater purpose and profit.

David Hessekiel is founder and president of Engage for Good (formerly Cause Marketing Forum) and Peer to Peer Professional Forum and author of Good Works!

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