Does good CSR have to have a business benefit?

csr blog imageWe were recently asked our thoughts on an article written some months ago in the Harvard Business Review entitled, rather grandly we thought, ‘The Truth About CSR’.

First admittedly, we had to revisit the article of which I remembered chiefly because of the use of the word ‘theatres’ for different aspects of CSR. Theatre one, being philanthropic giving, theatre two, CSR integrating into business operations and theatre three, CSR driving new business models. The opening of the article suggests that business drivers should not be essential to CSR activity and that benefits can often be “spillovers” albeit very welcome ones. Confusingly, in my opinion, the rest of the article addresses the best way to efficiently shape your CSR strategy to best align with your business strategy and enhance business benefits.

The article can be found here

Our view very much aligns with the approach suggested in the article, which in brief suggests a root and branch review of what your company does, what the rationale has been and how closely it fits with your business strategy and ethos.

This will give a good indication of what activities, across all disciplines (or theatres) meet organisational values and where activity is complementary. For example, philanthropic giving to charities helping with healthy lifestyles who then support employees on this agenda would be a good example of connectivity. There are many other good examples in the Harvard article. It will also show how (or if) success is being measured in terms of the impacts and outcomes of your CSR programme.

Building on elements of what your company is already doing well, gaining board level support for both rationale and activity, should provide an excellent platform for business focused CSR. CSR which helps communities, the environment and organisational performance in equal measure.

We do acknowledge that some activities cannot be measured by normal business disciplines and that CSR activity should not necessarily be thrown out if it does not immediately meet usual business criteria, however, in our view if too many of these activities are put in place an organisation runs the risk of simply returning to their starting point.

The best measure of effective CSR is that its business benefits become that obvious that people in your organisation no longer need to ask the type of questions rose in the Harvard article!

September 2016