Corporate Social Responsibility for Beginners


'Tis (Always) the Season for Giving Back

December—a time for celebrations and the consideration of fresh starts. Many minds are full of holiday season merriment and its accompanied gift-giving, and the prospect of a new year and its attendant thoughts of new resolutions.

In that spirit of giving and planning for the new year, we’re sharing some musings from VP Strategy Shawn Adamsson, who was recently asked for advice on giving back to the community by a small company looking to do more CSR (corporate social responsibility) work. CSR can seem complicated at first; while we're not saying it's easy, it can be simple. We’re a digital marketing company, so these are things we consider as we start; however, many of them are easily transposed to other lines of business...


There are lots of organizations in need; pick the one(s) that best fit the personality and passion of your company.


Set an annual budget and stick to it.
(We give around 10% of revenue back annually.)


Depending on what you plan to do for the organization you’ve chosen to support—in our case, we assist organizations with creative or technical work—you could set an expectation that you'll use this work as a portfolio piece and that you might push them further, creatively, than they might feel comfortable. Build this into the deal early in the discussion phase.


Treat the project—its budget and timelines—as though it were a paying gig. The recipient of your donation is counting on you to deliver, and it may unintentionally hurt them if you promise to do something but then delay it for paid work.


Follow your normal process, whatever that is, and make sure that the client has a true appreciation of the value of what you're doing. In the past we've even given regular invoices throughout the project with a 100% discount to drive that home.


Get permission to give sneak peeks of the work on social media as it progresses so folks can get insight into your process.
Again, this is part of the gift.


Budget enough to help the organization maintain the site for two or three years (for example, doing WordPress patches, etc.) and set that expectation early. But beware, these services will chew up a bit of that 10% annual budget after a while.


If you have a shared server throw in the hosting. Lots of folks use cut-rate hosting providers that can make things a nightmare. Again, this comes out of your annual budget.


Work with your client (and always think of them as your client) to do a news release for the site launch. Lots of not-for-profit (NFP) organizations and charities have really great media connections so use
that to benefit both of you.


NFPs and charities aren't much different from for-profit businesses; some have awesome leaders and some lack strong leadership. Do your homework and know who you're getting into business with. While money might not be changing hands, you should always treat the project like a business deal.


Do CSR for the right reasons - because you care and you want to make a difference. CSR is not a marketing gimmick or a way to impress others; when done authentically it is a gift from the heart and not the head.


Shawn says while all of these points are important, number one is, well… number one. You’re doing this for love, not money; that love has to carry you through, so alignment with the client and their vision is paramount. And Shawn finishes with advice that works in this context, and so many more:


“Do work for people that you like and causes that touch you.”


As of the day this is published, there are less than 10 days until Christmas (“Aaarrrrrgggghhhhh!”), and just over two weeks until New Year’s Day. Take a few minutes to think about what you can do for your community, however you define “community.”


Need help with a community project of your own?

Shawn Adamsson

Shawn Adamsson is Chief Culture Officer and one of the founders of Ellipsis Digital and Engine SevenFour. He spends most of his time working with, learning from, and hanging around with a lot of smart, thoughtful, passionate people.

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