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Corporate social responsibility: How to team up with companies to do good

Learn about four major types of corporate social responsibility initiatives, as well as common ways companies can support your cause.

Rachel Mills
January 20, 2021
Nerd Mr Butter

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Modern companies aren’t satisfied with just doing well. Today, they set out to do good, too. Many companies are committing to corporate social responsibility (CSR), a practice centered on using corporate resources to make the world a better place.

CSR takes many forms — donating to nonprofits, organizing volunteer forces, shifting business practices, and more. But one thing is clear: Businesses are increasingly teaming up with organizations and individuals to fuel change.

Use this article to understand the four major types of corporate social responsibility, as well as the different ways companies can contribute to your cause. We’ve also included an in-depth guide showing you how to find potential corporate partners, strike a deal, and build lifelong relationships.

Corporate social responsibility is a win-win

Corporate social responsibility initiatives look different for every business. Some companies may join environmental movements, engage with social issues, give back to local communities, or support other worthwhile causes. You’ve probably heard of (or even contributed to) some of the most common CSR efforts:

  • Funding climate change research
  • Reducing carbon footprint
  • Investing in renewable energy sources
  • Recruiting and hiring diverse candidates
  • Improving factory working conditions
  • Supporting human rights causes
  • Ethically sourcing raw materials
  • Committing to sustainable development
  • Giving to community programs, students, entrepreneurs, etc.

These social responsibility programs don’t just have a positive impact on society — they can enhance a company’s brand and boost its bottom line. One survey found that 86% of consumers said they’d purchase a product because that company advocated for an issue they cared about. And on average, 55% of people are willing to pay more for products from socially responsible companies.

CSR efforts also let businesses attract and retain top talent, particularly millennials and Gen Zers. Of employees aged 18 to 36, three in four expect their employer to take a stand on important issues affecting the country.

What does all of this mean for your nonprofit organization or fundraising cause?

Companies are realizing the benefits of supporting philanthropic causes, as well as the risks of staying on the sidelines.

That means you have more power than ever to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power by taking advantage of the CSR initiatives we cover below.

4 types of corporate social responsibility (and real-world examples)

Make Up Love GIF by Bounce

Corporate social responsibility is a kind of self-imposed business plan. It isn’t something that’s required to operate in the United States — it’s an extra step that companies take to do their part for society, so there’s a wide variety of topics, goals, and strategies. However, most CSR programs and one-off activities will fall into one of these four categories.

Corporate philanthropy 💛

Corporate philanthropy is all about promoting the welfare of others and aligning the company with socially responsible causes. It’s often associated with donating money, products, services, and other resources to nonprofits, but there’s more to it! Businesses may also invest in community projects, like launching a food pantry, or add their voice and expertise to decision-making committees, like a plan to establish affordable housing.

Check out this example: Ben & Jerry’s awards a whopping $2.5 million every year, mostly through grants, to support grassroots organizations focused on community action and systemic change.

Volunteerism 👷

CSR programs focused on volunteering let corporate employees get hands-on with causes they’re passionate about, while providing free work and potential long-term volunteers and donors to their partner organizations. They may also set up easy opportunities for employees to contribute funds, like automatic payroll deductions.

Medium and large enterprises can mobilize their massive workforces to hit a fundraising goal or work quota faster. However, small businesses can be a volunteer resource, too. They’re more likely to have a large network of local connections that can make the difference.

Check out this example: Through the Disney VoluntEARS program, employees (and their friends and families) have contributed over 11 million hours to meaningful charitable projects across the globe.

Environmental sustainability 🌲

One of the top areas of focus for CSR programs is environmental sustainability, from production and packaging to everyday workplace habits and big-picture investments.

It’s no surprise when consumer brands and suppliers are some of the biggest sources of carbon emissions and plastic pollution on Earth. These harmful effects were once considered an unavoidable cost of doing business, but in light of dire climate change warnings, many companies are prioritizing corporate sustainability efforts and environmental conservation.

Check out this example: Levi’s is building sustainability into its business model with its 2025 Water Action Strategy, aiming to reduce water use in manufacturing by 50% in areas of high water stress.

Ethical labor practices 👍

Ethical CSR strategies ensure that every company stakeholder is treated fairly, from vendors and employees to partners and customers. That includes implementing fair hours and wages, extending jobs to demographics that might otherwise be overlooked, enforcing health and safety standards, and rejecting partnerships with or investments in unethical companies.

This is particularly relevant for global companies, where labor laws may vary between countries and states. With ethics-focused CSR activities, businesses typically place an added emphasis on transparency, like publishing annual reports.

Check out this example: KBH Jewels, a fine jewelry brand, maintains ethical behavior and sustainable business practices across its supply chain — including fair wages and socioeconomic opportunities — by working with suppliers that are SCS Certified.

How companies can support your cause

Come On GIF by HBO Max

Now that we’ve covered the different types of CSR programs, let’s look at the tools that companies use to dole out contributions and spur participation on behalf of your cause:

  • Cash donations, like lump sums, ongoing payments, and expense reimbursements
  • In-kind donations, like product donations, professional services and expertise (public relations, human resources, legal advice), and cash equivalents (bonds, stocks, assets, etc.)
  • Corporate sponsorships, where companies pay to be associated with events, campaigns, and more
  • Matching gift programs, where companies match charitable donations for a limited time or up to a certain dollar amount
  • Employee programs, like paid volunteer days, corporate matching gift programs, and automatic payroll deductions for donations
  • Volunteer grant programs, where employers offer grants to organizations that their employees volunteer for
  • Community grant programs, where companies award cash, gift cards, and more to select organizations

You probably have a wishlist of the resources you’d like (okay, love) to receive from a corporation. The challenge is to strike a balance between what you need and what they’re willing to give.

One proven strategy is to shift the focus from your request to all the benefits the business will gain.

Will they get the #1 spot in your newsletter sent to 15,000 locals? Build relationships with the next generation of leaders? Get VIP gala tickets and gift bags? Enjoy corporate tax breaks? Tailor your request and your offer to each prospective company.

Beyond the bottom line

The rapid growth of corporate social responsibility offers a major opportunity for fundraisers and organizers to expand their reach and pursue their mission more effectively. For businesses, it's a win-win business strategy that betters their public image while driving real social impact.

As companies embrace their responsibility to positively influence the well-being of the communities they sell to and depend on, make sure you’re prepared to make a strong case for why they should align themselves with your specific cause. Dive into our guide to getting donations from companies to learn how.

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