Ten Red Flags of Corporate Social Responsibility: You’re Doing It All Wrong

To be a responsible company is to consider your impact. Effective corporate social responsibility is more than a surface-level commitment — it leverages your entire organization for good.

Here are ten red flags of corporate social responsibility and a few indicators that your CSR policy might not be effective, modern, progressive, or even socially responsible.

1. It’s not rooted in organizational strategy.

Your corporate social responsibility exists in a silo, and you’re making it up as you go along. It doesn’t complement the strategies that drive your business decisions. Without a strong connection to the rest of the business, it can’t come close to leveraging your entire organization for good.

New Belgium Brewing Company knows this. Their core values and beliefs — including environmental stewardship and the cultivation of potential through education — guide each year’s strategic planning sessions.

2. You’re not committed.

Your CSR exists because — and only while — it’s convenient. No one wants to miss out on a popular trend, and you don’t want to miss the opportunity to tout your CSR efforts. It should be a long game, with strategies, processes, and metrics that can go the distance.

3. It relies on a single individual. There is no long-term plan.

Turnover happens. When it does, it’s important that initiatives continue. Consistency not only increases your impact, it shows that you’re serious. And in the process of involving more team members, you benefit from a diversity of perspectives.

4. You set it and forget it. It’s not actively analyzed and improved.

Corporate social responsibility targets issues facing our society. As those issues change and evolve, it’s vital that CSR keeps up. This doesn’t require shifting your focus every few months, but it does require being responsive to your chosen issues. You should be willing to alter your programs to maximize your impact.

5. You don’t measure it.

Without metrics, CSR can be a black hole of good intentions and poor executions. Regularly evaluating your efforts allows you to improve problem areas and refocus on what’s working.

6. You consult too few stakeholders.

Your decision-makers share similar perspectives, priorities, and past experiences. Their perspective is limited, and your CSR suffers because of it. Involving team members from across your organization brings new ideas, priorities, and energy to bear.

At Dr. Bronner’s, everyone has a seat at the table. Each employee is given $100 to donate to one of five charities championed by staff. Instead of making a top-down decision to donate, the company invites all employees to be an active part of their impact.

7. It is piecemeal.

Your policy consists of donating to a few charities every year, without a larger purpose or plan. Your donations have an impact. But a well-rounded strategy that utilizes your human capital can exponentially increase your impact in areas that are important to your organization.

Intuit offers full-time employees 32 paid hours per year to volunteer in their communities. They mobilize 43,000 hours of expertise in 19 communities around the world, amplifying their values through feet on the ground.

8. You support groups that don’t share your organizational values.

Corporate social responsibility is an opportunity to manifest your values in society. By partnering with groups that don’t share your values, you miss that opportunity. You may also obscure what’s important to you in the eyes of your community.

Through its membership in 1% For The Planet, Patagonia has donated over $89 million to community-based groups. Rather than making large contributions to a few major organizations, they provide hundreds of small grants per year, usually targeting a specific issue. Each grant application is filtered through clearly-defined grant guidelines to identify value matches.

9. It is skin deep.

It doesn’t permeate your organization, and your team doesn’t feel invested. Effective CSR leverages your entire organization for good. If it doesn’t reach every part of the organization, you are already missing the mark.

10. It doesn’t address larger issues.

Your goals aren’t aligned with a greater, global vision. You should know what you are working towards. Whether it’s clean water or quality education, aligning your work as part of a global movement will increase impact, provide benchmarks, and help maintain energy.

A growing number of organizations are tackling these problems together. Many are choosing to align with the 17 UN sustainable development goals, the world’s checklist for a more equitable and sustainable future. Groups like B Corps provide metrics and accountability for socially-minded businesses. Others, like JUST, help organizations share their progress.

If you’re interested in our ten red flags of corporate social responsibility list or making your CSR efforts more responsible, talk to our team.