10th anniversary: nonprofit and CSR roundtable

Rose Gordon held a virtual roundtable in September that discussed the with CSR experts the trends that are affecting the industry


Carol Cone, Chairman and Founder, Cone, Inc.

Jim Duffy, SVP at MWW Group.

Mike Swenson, president of Barkley PR

Julie Bizzis, Global Director, CSR, Whirlpool

Robyn Jenkins Blum, corporate PR manager (oversees CSR PR), Cisco

PRWeek: So let's talk about what CSR campaigns looked like 10 years ago. Who has some initial thoughts?

Carol Cone (Cone): Cause went mainstream in the 90s. In fact, we renamed the practice of cause-related marketing “cause branding” as companies moved from transactional promotions to more long lasting campaigns, such as ConAgra Feeding Children Better, Targets Take Charge of Education.

Robyn Jenkins Blum (Cisco): Over the last 10 years, CSR PR has evolved from purely focused on the "numbers" from a philanthropic-contribution perspective to a campaign-driven mindset where multiple priorities/focus areas are presented.

Mike Swenson (Barkley PR): Even though 10 years ago seems like only yesterday, much was different. Companies were still more likely to keep out of the spotlight in terms of their CSR or cause initiatives. Today, both are part of most companies' business strategies.

Cone (Cone): As this year is the 25th anniversary of the term “cause-related marketing” -- thanks to the folks at American Express - we have looked back over the decades and found three precise segments of cause creators. The 1980s saw the Cause Pioneers, the first to test the marketing waters and expand the notion of what relationships between companies and nonprofits and social issues could be. With the 90s came the Cause Mainstreamers, who, through the use of in-store promotions, celebrities, and icons, brought cause to the marketplace in a big, bold way. And today, we see the Cause Innovators developing new fundraising models, launching global campaigns, enlisting new media, and aligning their programs with core business issues to truly embody the oft-quoted axiom: companies doing well by doing good. They are bringing citizenship into the heart of their businesses.

Jim Duffy (MWW): Most focused on initial understandings of the impact of business on the environment. CSR has evolved to now include a broader focus on other important issues, such as labor, supply chain management, responsible product design, among others. CSR today--in its broadest sense--is in many organizations now part of day-to-day operations. Technology makes it easier to monitor and be engaged, globally and locally.

PRWeek: We're looking at CSR becoming more a part of a strategic PR plan? How so? How was it viewed/handled 10 years ago compared to now?

Julie Bizzis (Whirlpool): Whirlpool views it as integral to our strategic business plan. Rather than just a PR program, it is one of the tools by which we engage our stakeholders.

Cone (Cone): Ten years ago in the US, philanthropy was the major public-facing focus of corporations: what they were doing in the communities where they had plants, major employees. Beyond community relations, they began to create robust national campaigns to touch consumers in general.

Duffy (MWW): Yes, corporate responsibility is increasingly part of communications programs. It varies from industry to industry as to which elements rank highest (e.g., governance, transparency vs. greenhouse gas emissions). However, as employees want to work for responsible companies, and companies want to attract and retain the best talent, integrating CSR is one way that companies can demonstrate their commitments, priorities and values.

Swenson (Barkley): Actually it has moved beyond simply being part of a PR plan to an integral part of an organization's brand strategy. CSR has helped to integrate good PR into the business as a whole. There is more transparency today, and companies have to be more open about their actions and their policies.

PRWeek: Have the stakeholders changed as far as who a company's CSR/cause goals are communicated to?

Cone (Cone): Today, philanthropy is a critical way to bring a company's values to life, however companies are accountable to a broader group of stakeholders, who are asking not only, "What do you stand for?" but "What do you do?"

Blum (Cisco): Stakeholders have become interdependent.

Cone (Cone): Very much so.

Swenson (Barkley): I don't think it is an overstatement to say that everyone has to be considered a stakeholder.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Conversely, for Whirlpool our CSR efforts grew organically from our communities into a global program to supporting Habitat for Humanity. Today, we find not only active consumers but our suppliers and trade partners also are engaged.

Duffy (MWW): Stakeholders have evolved and continue to do so. Digital technologies make it increasingly convenient for them to be involved, and corporations are using increasingly diverse channels to reach them.

Cone (Cone): In the future, companies will increasingly recognize how societal needs and business growth are intrinsically linked. Cause is evolving to new models of social engagement and global citizenship as companies become drivers of change.

PRWeek: Were employees always considered top stakeholders in CSR or has that evolved?

Cone (Cone): Employees were not a critical part of a program. Yet today HR = Citizenship.

Duffy (MWW): I think this has evolved. In most cases, the most critical stakeholders were (and in some cases remain) shareholders/investors. But today, even they are driving attention to CSR. Employees are now integrated more than they were in the past.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): We have built our CSR strategy in that very way. Our business commitment is every home, everywhere, and our products are all about making peoples lives better. Habitat for Humanity is fundamental to that.

Cone (Cone): Brands are built from the inside out, and employees are demanding today that they can bring their values to work and actively engage in activities that in many cases are skills-based volunteerism.

Swenson (Barkley): Pardon the plug, but this Friday is the 13th edition of Lee National Denim Day. The program began has a workforce-directed program to convince companies to allow their employees to wear their denim and support breast cancer. Today, the program is still in the workplace, but it has evolved into an online program where anyone can form their own Denim Day team and raise money for the cause. We had to broaden the outreach strategies to engage anyone who wanted to participate, regardless of whether or not their company was.

Cone (Cone): The research we did with Millennials in 2006 really showed this trend.

2006 Cone Millennial cause study:

a. 79% want to work for a company that cares about how it impacts society

b. 74% more likely to pay attention to a company's messages if the company has a deep commitment to a cause

c. 83% will trust a company if it is socially/environmentally responsible

d. 89% are likely to switch from one brand to another after price and quality are equal, if the later supports a cause

Blum (Cisco): Exactly. For long-term sustainability, you need to address needs of multiple stakeholders: employees, corporations, NGOs, and government. Campaigns have to address all audiences.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Whirlpool's approach to talent acquisition has evolved significantly as consumers and individuals seek to make CSR a regular part of their lives.

Swenson (Barkley): People want to work for companies that care. It makes us proud to know that our companies are doing things to make the world, or just our community, a better place. It is one more way for companies to keep good people.

Cone (Cone): Today in Stockholm, our client, ITT, is introducing a program we created with them called “ITT Watermark,” to their global HR conference to inspire the entire company worldwide to get engaged with their water efforts.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): We see this is a business strategy vs. PR.

PRWeek: Is it fair to say that 10 years ago CSR was not really something that was talked about, but today, it's an important part of any PR strategy? If so, what's allowed that move from the margins to the mainstream?

Cone (Cone): The exciting part of the current times is that corporate citizenship or social-issues engagement is a critical component of corporate strategy. Let me give a few facts that support this.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Consumers don't just want to hear about our CSR efforts but actually want to actively participate.

Blum (Cisco): During Cisco's 20th Anniversary "celebration" campaign a couple of years ago, all employees were encouraged to get involved and volunteer time with local organizations throughout the world. Employee engagement and involvement is a critical component to any campaign.

Cone (Cone): Why this is a business imperative:

a. 90% of CEOs are doing more to incorporate environmental, social and governance issues into strategy and operations – McKinsey 2007

b. In past five years, companies report significant increases in investment in corporate citizenship – according to Boston College 2007 State of Corporate Citizenship survey

i. Staff: inc. 74%

ii. Budgets: inc 72%

iii. Executive time increased 68%

c. 87% employees feel more loyal to their company when it supports a cause

1. Cone 2007 citizenship survey

d. Nearly 90% executives say their companies have citizenship goals as a part of core values/business principles – Conference Board 2002

e. 61% of executives say corporate citizenship makes a tangible contribution to their company's bottom line – Boston College 2007 State of Corporate Citizenship survey

f. 84% of executives globally believe making broader contributions to the public good should accompany generating high return for investors –

McKinsey 2006 global executive survey

Duffy (MWW): Corporate responsibility is indeed part of many PR strategies. There are many reasons to explain why this has evolved: Corporate scandals, banking failures, Al Gore - there seems to have evolved a heightened awareness of ethics and CR is part of that. I think this is both from the corporate and the consumer perspectives.

Blum (Cisco): Agree with Carol C. And to that point, CSR is increasingly viewed as adding real business value. I understand that 1 of every 9 US dollars is invested in socially responsible business funds.

Cone (Cone): Here is a great fact that we found:

Companies with leading environmental and social governance policies surpassed others in stock performance by an average of 25% since August 2005 - 2007 (Goldman Sachs Global Sustainability Report)

Duffy (MWW): I might add that product-safety scandals have driven many companies to demonstrate commitments to safety in ways they have not had to in the past.

Swenson (Barkley): Another dynamic that forced CSR and cause out into the open is the increased visibility of nonprofits. They no longer sit on the sidelines waiting to be asked to the dance by a company. Nonprofits are actively communicating to everyone and shining more light on the needs that exist. And as we have increasingly learned that government can't handle all problems, companies have to fill the gap. And so they come out into the open.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Perhaps the biggest ‘a-ha' is that business sustainability and CSR must be intrinsically linked. Our causes' relationships in fact mirror that belief as they are all about creating sustainability for individuals, families, and communities.

PRWeek: And where are these changes taking us? What's the future of CSR and cause marketing?

Cone (Cone): At last week's Arthur Page society meeting Jeff Immelt [General Electric's CEO] was the lead speaker. I asked about the state of citizenship in these turbulent times. He first talked about GE's strategic philanthropy -- giving college scholarships in key plant communities. But he went on to say that the most important thing a company can do is invest in plants and jobs and innovate new products that can help solve social issues.

Blum (Cisco): At the end of the day, there is social and business value to CSR. The results it obtains through its CSR efforts are a measure of the corporation's health and impacts the communities in which we work, live, and play.

Swenson (Barkley): As with all things, the Internet has changed CSR/cause. It is easier to engage people today and to create communities where we can gather and find others interested in the same causes we are. Companies and nonprofits will continue to experiment and find new ways to raise awareness and dollars.

Duffy (MWW): Cause marketing will continue as an integral element of corporate responsibility and related marketing. Developments in CSR will evolve into a greater ability to link all facets of the organization -- including elements of supply chain, product safety, responsible product design and packaging, and plant efficiencies, et al, not to mention transparent governance. Green will take a lesser role.

Blum (Cisco): Absolutely, technology levels the playing field for corporations as well as nonprofits and the communities they serve. Those who can integrate technology into their operations are creating more sustainable and far-reaching impactful programs

Cone (Cone): Three key trends we see:

Product innovation: Companies will increasingly create new products or market existing ones with an eye toward manufacturing responsible goods that meet the everyday needs of their customers.

Global customization: Multinationals will steer away from focusing on a single issue to creating global citizenship platforms, tailoring their efforts to meet the needs of key markets.

Social consciousness elevation: Companies will serve as a catalyst in increasing understanding and fostering empathy among mainstream consumers about the ways in which complex, often unfamiliar global issues, such as access to clean water, human rights, and gender equality, impact business and the health of society.

Swenson (Barkley): It would appear that government regulation may be on the increase given the events of the past few weeks. That could help force more companies to look at themselves in the mirror and move more quickly to make sure they are doing everything they can to be good actors to keep the regulators away. It should also force more open involvement in cause.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Carol is right about product innovation! Issues like conservation of energy and water are all the more critical today to our innovative product development efforts.

PRWeek: Let's talk a little bit about the terminology and how it continues to evolve. We're using ‘Cause,' ‘CSR,' ‘green,' and talking about PR vs. business strategies, etc. What were the terms of old, of today, and of the future?

Swenson (Barkley): I think we have all said it different ways. CSR if part of a business plan today.

Cone (Cone): What is “Cause”?

[From the Cone “Past. Present. Future. The 25th Anniversary of Cause Marketing” study released] “Cause” has become a catch-all term that ultimately describes innovative ways in which companies and nonprofits integrate social and environmental issues into their brand DNA to generate bottom-line business and social benefits.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Consumers are weighing energy and water efficiencies much more heavily in purchase decisions today than just five years ago.

Duffy (MWW): Consultants often attempt to coin new terms. However, in its most fundamental elements, corporate responsibility -- and all of its facets -- should continue to reflect the heart of the imperative and should continue to resonate across cultures.

Blum (Cisco): Philanthropy has evolved into CSR.. More than just giving back, CSR encompasses all facets of a corporation's practices. Green certainly has taken the conversation surrounding sustainability into the mainstream.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): For us, it is not so much about giving back as it is about being a part of the communities where we live, work, and play.

Swenson (Barkley): It is a company recognizing that it has an obligation to society as a whole, not just to shareholders. And that obligation is good for business, too.

Cone (Cone): Over the past 25 years, especially the last 10, there has been a maturation and segmentation of this business strategy. Corporate responsibility strategy focuses on a company's business operations. Boston College has a great corporate citizenship framework that is very helpful.

Cone (Cone): Beyond Good Company, Next Generation Corporate Citizenship by Brad Googins is one of my favorite books on the evolution of this critical corporate and organizational strategy.

PRWeek: Mike mentioned something about regulation, and I think this plays into the idea of how CSR is measured as well. Have the metrics for these programs changed? Evaluating how it's received as well as scope, ROI, etc. What is the trend here?

Bizzis (Whirlpool): For Whirlpool, it is important that we measure not only the growth of the cause and its impact but also our ability to leverage dollars, products, people - employees, consumers, and other stakeholders - and our ability to influence public policy.

Swenson (Barkley): ROI is still king in business. We all know that. Measurement can be done a variety of ways, through brand tracking, etc. The bottom line is there needs to be ongoing research with a benchmark to measure against, so we know if we are moving the needle in a positive way.

Duffy (MWW): Some companies have very sophisticated metrics such that they can track CR activities to ROIs. However, the critical element is to have the systems and processes that are necessary to capture the most critical data to tell the economic story. As for regulation, in some instances (energy efficiency) is proclaimed as a product differentiator; however, regulatory agencies seem now to be requiring greater performance standards. Recycling, too, is part of this. In some cases (e.g., electronics), it is voluntary, but in the not-too-distant future it will likely be required.

Cone (Cone): Absolutely.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): With 90,000 appliances donated and directly sponsored/built 5,000 homes for Habitat For Humanity, we have a strong foundation by which to measure our dollar impact.

Cone (Cone): In the consumer space, there have been meetings at the national level to more closely scrutinize claims and the need for regulation.

Blum (Cisco): Measurement of Cisco's giving back efforts has become a key factor in determining how/where to invest resources. Cisco is focused on supporting those organizations that not only are innovative in their approach to doing good, but can demonstrate success in the form of impact on the communities which they serve. Technology allows us to measure both impact and productivity, which wasn't possible some 10 years ago.

PRWeek: And given that so many (the general public, investors) expect these programs, how can companies stand out?

Cone (Cone): So many ways to stand out. The first is to approach the creation or enhancement of a commitment to a cause with the same careful planning of any other critical business initiative. Next, create a cross-function senior team of executives for input and "skin in the game" from marketing to brand, research, HR, PR, public affairs, community relations, and a key representative from the "C" suite.

Build a program that supports critical business objectives. Then find alignment with an issue that resonates with key stakeholder, like ITT and water.

Swenson (Barkley): Carol is right. The companies that stand out today are the ones that realized long ago what we are talking about here. Create programs that make strategic sense for your business and not just to create short-term buzz. And then don't be afraid to talk about the successes.

Blum (Cisco): To a great extent, it's less about the companies standing out and more about demonstrating success/impact on the individuals which CSR efforts support.

Duffy (MWW): Companies can stand out by ensuring their words align with performance -- at all levels, without exception. Companies that enable consumers to participate and live responsible lifestyles will continue to expand stakeholder accrual.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): CSR must have roots at the very highest level of the company. Personal engagement is key. Our CEO actively supports Boys & Girls Club in our community.

Cone (Cone): Search for partners with authenticity, longevity, and the ability to deliver over time. Then use all the assets of the organization to implement. Then, once some traction is made, communicate with all methods. Then set goals, measure, and report back.

Bizzis (Whirlpool): Volunteerism not only improves our employee engagement scores but also facilitates professional and personal development. Many of our employees become experts-on-call to local organizations giving lift to both parties.

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