Top 5 Corporate Social Responsibility Trends for 2020

Two-thirds of CEOs agree that companies (not the government or NGOs) will lead the progress toward long-term societal improvement, according to a recent poll.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) once meant a couple of big financial donations a year, but now organizations are investing more than just their money.   Current CSR trends are much more about strategically aligning philanthropic work with business goals in order to bolster both.

Here are Five 2020 CSR Trends We Anticipate to be on the Rise:

  1. Sustainable Development Goals
  2. Synergistic Approach
  3. Measurement
  4. Corporate Activism
  5. Employee Volunteer Programs

1. Sustainable Development Goals 

In 2015, the UN established a plan to achieve 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, including: 

  • ending poverty and hunger, 
  • providing global access to quality education, 
  • promoting health and well-being, 
  • taking climate action, 
  • reducing inequalities, 
  • building public-private partnerships to reach these goals.  

While progress has been made in these first five years, the results are not happening at the speed required to meet these goals by the target date.  At the September 2019 SDG Summit, world leaders called for the upcoming decade to be focused on “action and delivery for sustainable development and pledged to mobilize financing, enhance national implementation and strengthen institutions” in order to achieve the goals by 2030.  Expect ramped up CSR programs and public-private partnerships over the next decade+, tackling these specific areas of social and environmental need at the global, local, and individual levels.

Obtaining a quality education is the foundation for creating sustainable development. In addition to improving quality of life, access to inclusive education can help equip locals with the tools required to develop innovative solutions to the world’s greatest problems.  —The UN.org

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2. Synergistic Approach To Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

In 2020, companies will increasingly strive to build  Corporate Social Responsibility strategies that align core business objectives with solving relevant social problems at scale.  Many organizations are now wholeheartedly embracing the idea that you can make a profit and make a difference at the same time—one does not need to come at the expense of the other.  Companies are looking at opportunities to contribute to society through the lens of their core business.  Unlike when business strategy and CSR operate in silos, a synergistic approach tends to boost both social impact and stock market performance and bottom line.  A win-win.

80% of the general population agree that businesses can both make a profit and improve the economic and social conditions of the community in which it operates.  —The Edelman Trust Barometer

3. Measuring the Effectiveness of Corporate Social Responsibility Initiatives

However, to measure the effectiveness, or demonstrate the ROI, of their corporate social responsibility strategies, companies must have the proper capabilities in place to accurately measure their impact.  Often it helps to think backward—from the desired end goal to the tracking tools required to get there. Many companies now recognize this need but still struggle to put the mechanisms in place to effectively track and report their impact.  In the year ahead, we predict that more organizations will prioritize this goal.

“As I look ahead to the next few years, I see companies’ adoption of impact measurement and the SDGs as becoming more and more critical…Those companies that ignore this call to action and continue to not integrate their CSR activities as a core function of their business will see themselves left behind.”  — Michelle DiSabato, Impact Advisory Services at Blackbaud

4. Corporate Activism

Corporate CEOs are progressively standing up for social issues they personally care about, catalyzing a trend of corporate activism that we predict will rise to new levels in 2020.  Business leaders, from Apple’s Tim Cook to Starbucks’ Howard Schultz to CEOs of small and mid-sized companies, have become very vocal on important societal issues and are wielding the power of their organizations to address those issues in how they operate and invest.  And research suggests that corporate activism increases hiring competitiveness, employee loyalty, and long-term sales. Ninety million Americans consider themselves “conscious consumers” and 72% of consumers said they will “actively seek a brand that aligns with their values if price and quality are equal.”  Today’s Millennial-dominated workforce wants to work for companies whose leaders advocate for important societal issues.

Roughly 84% of professionals favor “CEOs taking public positions on hotly debated current issues” and 79% of tech professionals stated they would “be more loyal to their organizations if their CEOs took public positions on issues.”  — 2018 Weber Shandwick poll of professionals across the US, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Mexico, and the UK

5. Under-Tapped CSR Trend: Employee Volunteer Programs

Company-organized employee volunteer opportunities continue to be an under-tapped opportunity and, thus, we will see this 2019 CSR trend continue into 2020 as more businesses adopt this practice.  Not only can employee volunteer programs make a massive, positive impact on a company’s corporate social responsibility programs, brand image, and recruitment/retention, but companies are treating these initiatives also as team-building activities.  In addition to improving morale and culture, there is an opportunity to encourage cross-departmental collaboration and relationships by placing employees from different teams together on these volunteer days.  

Silicon Valley companies are leading the way, with nearly half (46%) holding 10 or more volunteer events each year and a UnitedHealth Group report found that “81% of employed volunteers who volunteered through their workplace, agreed that volunteering together strengthens relations among colleagues.”  Some companies are further personalizing the experience by asking employees to pick which volunteer activity they want to partake in, based on their interests or skillsets.

More Employee Volunteer Program Examples

  • TransUnion’s U.S.-Based employees have a “Volunteer Time Off” day that can be used to work with a charity that is important to the employee. 
  • 3M Global Volunteer Day empowers their global team to donate a day of their time towards local causes.
  • Patagonia’s Ventura headquarters and store organize an annual 5K run. All proceeds are donated to local nonprofit groups.

74% of employees say their job is more fulfilling when given the opportunity to make a positive impact at work.  –Research from Cone Communications

All of these 2020 corporate social responsibility trends require organizations to strategically think through their core business values and which types of corporate social responsibility programs can be naturally integrated with those values.

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