The holidays are upon us. We know you are busy, but with 2017 almost over, and 2018 is just around the corner, CSR Matters has a question for you: will your CSR program results meet your expectations? If not, is it time for change?

How do we know it is time to make changes?

Meeting with a mid-sized corporate client recently, I was asked a very good question. My key point of contact is a Corporate Communications veteran who does double-duty overseeing the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She said to me: “Our CSR program results seem okay, but I’m not really sure just how well we are doing. How do I know when it is time for change?”

If you’ve asked yourself that question – or worse, if a C-suite executive is asking you that question – don’t worry, you are not alone. Many CSR executives split time shouldering additional company responsibilities. That makes it all the more difficult to find the time to step back, take stock of your CSR initiatives and programs, and determine whether or not change may be needed.

And the good news is that this is not hard to do, but it takes some time, and program evaluation experience certainly helps. At CSR Matters, we understand that the key to evaluating your CSR program results starts with a few tried and true best practices.

Taking Stock of Your CSR Programs

To keep things simple and help you get started, you don’t need to wait until 2017 is over before you begin to assess impact. Start now. So let’s take stock of your CSR program results now by taking these three steps.

Step one: Revisit your goals for the year 

What goals did you set? I know it sounds basic, but you can’t assess how well or how poorly your CSR programs have performed if you have no sense of how well you expected them to perform. Right?

Perhaps this is an AH-HA moment. At CSR Matters, we have found that it is not uncommon for CSR Programs to operate year to year without being challenged to do more. But times have changed. Social responsibility is as important to your corporate brand as anything else you do. The goals that your company sets for Corporate Social Responsibility programs, as well as the contributions that those programs make to the rest of the company, matter.

If you did not set clear goals for 2017, then stop right there. We have answered the question “Is it time for change?”, and the answer is “Yes!”.

Step two: Review your preliminary results for 2017

I know we get tired of hearing this – I know I do! – but we measure everything today. Especially in business. And that applies to CSR, too.

CSR strategies can reach across multiple disciplines within your company. Consequently, most companies utilize third party software to support CSR strategy implementation, tracking and impact measurement. And there’s a lot of it.

For example, for your workplace giving programs, you might depend upon a YourCause or Benevity platform. Employee engagement efforts might utilize a variety of systems, from employee survey tools, like Peakon, to volunteer experience software from VolunteerMatch. Sustainability and environmental impact software has become so specialized that we need to go industry by industry just to provide common points of reference. You get the idea.

More importantly, it is time to start reviewing your preliminary CSR program results for 2017. How did the first three quarters go? Pull that data together and begin assessing trends, year over year, quarter over quarter.

And if you can’t get your hands on reliable data – data from this year, last year, last quarter – then we have hit another stopping point. We have once again answered the question “Is it time for change?”, and the answer is again “Yes!”.

Step three: Start thinking qualitatively about your CSR programs

Because 2017 isn’t over yet, at this point we stress an initial qualitative analysis over the quantitive. As you review your goals and early returns for the year, this is a point in the process where you can ask yourself lots of good questions.

In fact, the more questions, the better. We are trying to get a feel for the current state of your CSR programs, and whether or not change may be needed. Be sure to assemble a small team – you want help and opinions – and challenge yourselves as you review. For example …

  • Did you set the right goals? Too many or too few?
  • Are you able to measure results against goals?
  • Is your software generating results data, but that data does not appear to align with the goals?
  • Did you launch any new initiatives? And are you having trouble getting clear data around them, perhaps because this is your first year of activity?
  • Is your data superficial? For example, do you have workplace giving program numbers such as dollars given or percent participation, but you did not measure impact or alignment with your brand?
  • Are you collecting employee engagement feedback, but there’s no follow up?
  • And perhaps the most telling of all – you have lots of data, it looks like the same data year after year after year, and nobody does anything with it our about it?
What now? Next steps

If hit one of our stopping points in steps one or two, then we encourage you to reach out for help. It sounds like it is time for change, and firms like CSR Matters stand ready to assist.

If you made it to step three, and you have begun the qualitative review, congratulations. You are off to a good start. If your list of questions keeps getting longer, even better. Don’t get discouraged. An initial qualitative review is intended to help you step back and look at your CSR strategy holistically.

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How will we know when we accomplish something?
  • Are we focused on the right things?
  • Do we have the right tools?

Remember, data – or the lack of it – can tell us a lot more about our CSR programs that we may realize.

Your qualitative review may tell you that everything is fine. Great. Keep at it, get through year end, pull together all of your 2017 data, and dig into the quantitative review.

If your qualitative review is exposing gaps and issues, however, then you have answered the question “Is it time for change?”. And the answer is “Yes!” … even if you do not yet know what that change will be.

Exposing the gaps and issues – generating lots of questions in step three that nobody can answer – will make your CSR strategy, programs and initiatives better. You just have some work ahead of you.

If we can help, please let us know. CSR program evaluation is a specialty of ours. Because CSR matters!