From the inside out

What counts as doing good? Especially against a backdrop of increasing market pressures in philanthropy, corporate sustainability, regulatory guidelines and governance standards? Social responsibility is based on a complicated subject matter. Determining the totality of CSR activities within a company is difficult without a strong working knowledge of the CSR space.

Getting started the right way is essential to create authentic brand engagement. That’s why savvy companies often approach social responsibility from the inside, beginning with their people. Often the jumping off point is achieved by conducting an inventory of a company's and its employees' current social responsibility activities. An inventory is a great way to form the basis for identifying gaps and opportunities within an existing CSR program, no matter how large or small the existing program may be. An inventory can be accomplished through employee surveys, document review, and interviews.

When a company bases its inventory research and review process on best practices and the work of the most forward-thinking thought leaders in the industry, a company can produce a compelling report summarizing its overall CSR footprint. In turn, the company can articulate its CSR strategy because it will have a solid baseline of raw content. After that, the marketing team can produce high quality material to begin to legitimately publicize the company’s CSR commitment.

And then the fun starts. Brand engagement, especially through CSR, is often strongest when it begins internally. In fact, a CSR strategy can be difficult to get off the ground to drive corporate growth if CSR is viewed only as an externally-driven project. An excellent example of a highly successful CSR program where internal participation drives external perception is the community involvement approach at Lockton in Kansas City, Missouri. Lockton is the world's largest privately owned, independent insurance brokerage firm, with 61 offices and more than 4,000 associates around the globe. Lockton's culture of success is based on doing the right things for the company's customers and associates. This includes participating in the communities where the company does business. Here's how Lockton describes its community involvement philosophy:

"Supporting our communities is more than just a necessity— it is a privilege. For more than 40 years, Lockton Associates have given back to their local communities, not because they have to, but because they want to. Together, we believe this commitment to social responsibility builds stronger families, better professional relationships and more committed Associates. It is simply the right thing to do."

True to its values-based approach, the "Community Involvement" page of Lockton's website lists dozens of organizations supported by Lockton associates.

An emerging trend in "inside out" CSR is a grant making initiative launched through an event called an "employee CSR summit." Under this model, a company sets aside a day to spend with a group of 50 employees (appointed and/or volunteers), divided into three teams. Each team learns about several community causes that are aligned with the company’s core values. By the end of the day, the three teams will have selected three organizations to “micro grants” to foster innovation and community engagement. An internal communications plan following the summit helps to focus employee-driven CSR activities, harnessing the energy of employee-led fundraising and volunteering efforts (bake sales, 5Ks, food and clothing drives). An internal role definition plan following the summit maps out internal positions to identify appropriate departments and team members whose participation and collaboration is essential for the success of the company’s CSR strategy.

A strong CSR program can be built from the inside, out. CSR is important. And the market pressures on companies to do good are certainly rising. CSR is a critical component to any business striving to keep its growth trajectory right side up.