A solid corporate social responsibility strategy is built using crucial backbones like values, mission statements and data. At the root of each, is one small word filled with a great deal of meaning: authenticity. Without it, your CSR story will gain little to no trust or achieve little to no growth. How are all those “important elements” rooted in authenticity and what does it mean to have an authentic CSR story?
What is an Authentic CSR Story?
Authenticity isn’t a buzzword or industry lingo, and any communication or strategy that lacks it will eventually suffer. Today, people question brands and give pause when purchasing from or applying to work with companies making it important to remain authentic. Edelman Trust Barometer, a worldwide survey of more than 33,000 people, found that people’s trust in authority (businesses, government, media, etc) has fallen for the first time in the 17 years of their annual study. Leaders of all types have something to prove to their audiences.
CSR has become the proactive response in developing that trust. This is great for all those causes finally getting attention and support, but has led to questions around CSR involvement. Consumers and employees alike are interested in seeing the correlation between an organization and their philanthropies, volunteering, etc. An authentic CSR story has an apparent connection. Authenticity is that invisible line between your CSR efforts and the priorities of your company and the actions of leadership.
How to Build an Authentic CSR Story
The challenge in authentic CSR storytelling is that there aren’t a lot of proactive ways to build it.
“People don’t trust companies to tell their own story, because they assume they’ll gloss over any imperfections and only show the positive stuff. Which of course is usually EXACTLY what happens. And that’s also why the stories don’t work.”
That doesn’t mean it’s completely out of your hands. In fact, there are plenty of ways to build that invisible line of authenticity, some of which you may already do:
Focus on Your Values
Yes, yet another post that mentions company values. There is no way around it, if your values aren’t clear to your audiences, the connections to your actions will go unseen. The values you hold are directly related to the causes you value. It’s a circle. When your CSR or sustainability programs influences everyday projects of the business and vice versa, there is no way your audiences will question why you’re involved in such initiatives.
One amazing example of this comes from McDonalds. Their campaign to raise interest in employment opportunities within their organization focused on their values through one tagline: Committed to Being America’s Best First Job. They put this in to practice with tuition assistance, high school completion courses and free English language classes. There is no question as to why they make these investments in their employees because they have an inherit benefit in having educated employees who can communicate well. Not to mention, these efforts continue to push a better future reputation as an employer.
Work in the Now
When the Las Vegas Massacre occurred only a few short months ago, the whole country was in shock. The tragedy affected many people and communities, so organizations sprang to action, using their own talents and services to help in the best way they knew how. That included airlines offering free/discounted tickets while hotels provided rooms to victims.
Let Others Tell Your Story
There is always value in showing off your CSR work. Companies should use imagery and data to paint a picture of their goals and accomplishments. However, organizations should stand out of their own way when telling their authentic CSR story. This can be done through a strong narrator from your leadership team, like a passionate CEO. It can also mean simply telling a story. No plugs, no proof of impact. A simple, thoughtful story about a meaningful cause your organization stands behind.
For example, consider Starbucks Upstanders series. The program is a collection of stories, now into its second season, focused on bringing attention to movers and shakers working to change the world. These are ordinary people doing big things, even if it’s on a small scale. Each blog is authored by executive chairman, Howard Schultz, and senior vice president, Rajiv Chandrasekaran. In most cases, there isn’t even a reference to coffee or the brand. Instead, the team is only concerned with raising awareness, developing that relationship and connection for the interpretation of all audiences.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to telling an authentic CSR story. And the room for error is wide. No matter what your company believes in, it’s important that you understand audiences won’t be fooled. Stick to the issues that truly resonate within your organization and you won’t fail. For more advice, download our Strategic Corporate Philanthropy Guide to Success.
If you aren’t sure what it takes to get your CSR strategy off the ground or need help managing a grant program, CyberGrants is the way to bring all your giving into one, unified platform.