As we enter December, we can already start thinking about CSR trends for 2018.  What have been our 2017 successes with corporate social responsibility and employee engagement? And what can we do in 2018 to take our programs to even greater heights?

2017 Results Foreshadow CSR Trends for 2018

By most measures, 2017 has been a good year for both charitable giving and employee engagement. That is good for our CSR trends looking forward. It is expected that charitable giving in the U.S. will increase nearly 4%. Individual donors are responsible for the majority of charitable giving, as well as the increase in foundations, donor-advised funds (DAFs) and other innovations in giving. Giving by foundations is expected to lead in giving with a nearly 6% increase, while corporate giving is expected to grow by nearly 2.4%.

Even more important, however, is the strategic progress we make across Corporate America. Social responsibility – not just giving, but also engagement, sustainability, and governance – has become fully embedded into most company cultures. CSR is recognized as a tool for companies to build trust with consumers, partners, governments, as well as their own employees. As a result, not only are more companies embracing CSR, but CSR is maturing as a discipline.

Do you remember two decades ago when websites were and eCommerce was being introduced as a new way to conduct businesses? Remember how businesses everywhere were developing an “e-business strategy”? Today, we no longer talk about “e-business”. It’s just “business”.

Well, in many ways, the same can be said for CSR. “Social responsibility” is no longer something in addition to marketing and operations, like an outsider looking in. CSR has gone from a voluntary action to a required function to an embed within a company’s values, culture, brand and business strategy.

With that in mind, here are six CSR trends we should pay attention to in 2018.

1. Charitable Giving Will Increase Again

If we were able to look into a crystal ball to predict charitable giving in 2018, we are confident the answer would be “outlook good.” Charitable giving is expected to have another banner year. Total giving is expected to increase by 3.8% in 2018, according to Marts & Lundy. And that translates into giving levels showing above average growth, including giving by foundations, individuals and corporations.

Typically, charitable giving tracks with general economic trends, and the current economic climate is upbeat. Growth in the GDP and the stock market, as well as pending tax reform legislation give us good reason (see our recent post on the tax cuts) to be optimistic for 2018.

2. Continued Emphasis on Employee Engagement

Employee involvement continues to be the foundation of many new “signature program” initiatives. Businesses seeking to engage employees will continue tailoring culture and programs towards these stakeholders. Research suggests these employees are motivated by open communication, a great company culture, involvement with causes, and achieving purpose and fulfillment.

The frequently cited Cone Communications Employee Engagement Study found that “employees want more than the traditional donation and volunteerism programs when they come to work. They want to be part of something bigger – and that means having a tangible and active role in contributing to their company’s CSR goals. Employees are ready to voice their opinions and roll up their sleeves to make an impact on social and environmental issues important to the business.”

Backing up Cone’s findings, we recently authored the America’s Charities 2017 Giving Trends study in which we confirmed that giving at the workplace and volunteering is alive and well. More than 58% of respondents to the online survey indicate they volunteer time through the workplace and 46% say they donate money. Furthermore, we found that 71% of respondents want to work for employers who have missions and values that align with their own personal values, while 60% want to work for companies where the culture supports giving and volunteering.

In 2018, we can expect more. This is especially true for consumer-facing companies who are now reaching beyond the traditional employee workforce to engage their customers, partners and vendors in CSR activities.

3. Sustainable Development Goals Become the Strategy and Focus

As part of the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, more than 150 world leaders came together to adopt a set of 17 goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. Corporations are incorporating these goals into their overall CSR strategies and will track progress against these goals.

At a recent CSR conference, The Commit Forum 2017, companies indicated they see the SDGs not as philanthropy but as business strategy. The conference reported that 38% of Fortune 50 companies now publicly support the SDGs but we expect more Fortune companies to follow.

4. Generation Z Carries the Mandate

Generation Z is now entering the workforce. We’ve spend the last several years talking about their predecessors the Millennials. We know they are demanding social responsibility, accountability and authenticity from their employer. Generation Z is even larger than the Millennials, and they indicate they will carry the mandate and hold corporations accountable. Gen Z is paying attention to a company’s impact on society and it does affects their decisions about where to work. This new generation is already making it a mandate that corporations put their money and resources into doing good.

5. Role of CSR Within Companies will Expand

As CSR continues to mature, the circle of champions within a company is widening. New and unique voices are coming to the table bringing new and innovative ideas. The circle and sphere of CSR activities will continue to broaden with each company, resulting in more cross department collaborations. The walls between corporate functions of philanthropy and sustainability are falling.

In our opinion, this CSR trend is particularly important given the pending tax cut legislation. As we recently wrote, we believe that companies benefitting from the upcoming tax cuts should proactively invest some of the tax savings into CSR. CSR initiatives quell the critics while positively impacting employees, communities and a company’s brand.

6. Smaller and Midsized Business are Getting on Board

More and more small and mid-size companies will jump on board with CSR in order to better define a strategic focus for their responsibility and engagement programs. Small companies are recognizing the call for social responsibility and for meeting the needs of a changing workforce. They are capitalizing on the lessons learned over the past decade to build authentic and robust programs of their own.

Employees are often the most important CSR resource that smaller companies have to engage their communities and enrich their brand.

Wrapping it up!

Opportunities abound for great things in 2018. CSR trends are looking up! We encourage you to think about your own company in terms of our Six CSR Trends for 2018. We hope you share our sense of optimism about the new year and are committed to taking your CSR programs to greater heights.

As always, contact CSR Matters to learn more about our services and how we might be able to help you.