When the going gets tough, the tough get going … right? Well, not always. In this interesting niche market that we call Corporate Social Responsibility (or CSR), shared CSR values – sometimes referred to as a “cultural fit” between company and partners – is everything. Why? Because “when the going gets tough,” it is your shared CSR values that pull you through.

Why does the going get tough?

There is a lot of change and evolution occurring in the CSR world. For example, consider your programs for giving, volunteering, employee engagement or sustainability. These programs are increasingly being managed via third-party SaaS technology platforms. Your platform providers have their business objectives just like your company does. Brand advancement and protection. Marketing outreach. Customer acquisition. Profitability. Wait – are we referring to companies that sponsor CSR programs, or the vendors that support them? The answer: both.

Think about your company’s signature CSR programs and their charity partners. Same business objectives as before … for both parties.

So there can be a lot of pressure from everyone’s stakeholders, especially in a time when CSR initiatives are getting far more attention. Think about the impact of recent tax cuts now making capital available to be invested in corporate responsibility and employee engagement initiatives. Expectations rise. More pressure to deliver. Things can go wrong. Problems can emerge, feeling like mountains to be climbed. The going can get tough.

So CSR Matters asks: when “the going gets tough” between a company’s CSR team and their platform provider or their signature charity partner, what pulls everyone through?

The value of shared CSR values

The answer to our question may seem simple, but let’s not take it for granted. What pulls everyone through is a sense of shared values. Or better put, shared CSR values … a cultural “fit” between company and vendor or between company and charity that will focus everyone beyond simply the problem at hand to the higher purpose driving all the hard work.

As a professional in the business of corporate social responsibility, ask yourself this: why do I do what I do? For example, if you work for a technology provider, the reality is that you have skills that are in demand. There are a lot of companies where you could work. So why a CSR company? If you are like us at CSR Matters, you do this because you want to have a positive impact on the communities in which you live and work, and a positive impact on your neighbors in need. You want to help make a difference. Your sense of urgency is driven by more than a boss or a job description or even profitability. And perhaps most importantly:

You recognize that together we can accomplish a heck of a lot more than acting individually.

That is why we all do this.

Now, have you had that discussion with your technology provider? With your signature charity partners? Better yet, did you have the discussion prior to selecting your providers and partners?

Bridging gaps

In a recent blog post, we talked about the challenge of bridging gaps between stakeholders in the CSR family – between nonprofit and tech provider, between company and nonprofit, etc. Think of this post as a continuation of that discussion … except with one twist. We are actually backing up and thinking about an earlier point in time … about the vendor selection process, or the process of identifying signature charity partners.

Recently talking with a company’s CSR team about this topic, we learned that they had to work hard at their relationship with their technology platform provider because they had not invested enough time up front, during vendor selection, to make sure that the “cultural fit” was there. So the relationship work we talked about was conducted after problems arose. The good news is that everybody got onto the same page, and problems were resolved to everyone’s satisfaction. But the lesson learned is that it took more work once “the going got tough” because stakeholders had not laid the foundation upfront. In other words, the gap to bridge was much wider than it otherwise needed to be.

Creating an atmosphere of shared CSR values

Okay, you agree with what we are saying (we hope!). You are on board. You want to make sure that your CSR team and your vendor have shared CSR values. How do you do that? “Doesn’t that just happen?”, you ask. Either your values are aligned or not … right?

Well, not exactly.

Yes, it is better to address this at the beginning of your search for a technology or charity partner. But if you did not do that then, there is still plenty of time now … before the next fire erupts. Three helpful suggestions to get you started:

  1. Identify your CSR values. Why are you a CSR professional? Why does CSR matter to your company? Besides brand, revenue, new markets, customer acquisition, and profitability, what do you value … and why?
  2. Start a conversation. Let your vendor or charity know that corporate culture matters, not just within your company but across relationships with your partners. Talk about your company’s CSR values, and ask about theirs. Look for alignment.
  3. Talk about the potential for problems, and how both sides wants to address them. Talk about the pressures each of you may be under to deliver results. Discuss the partnership between the two companies, and the role each of you plays in problem solving.

Let’s further emphasize point 3 … and this advice is coming from a lot of experience. Message to companies: you focus way too much on escalation paths as the means of resolving problems, rather than shared values and approaches to problem solving. Message to vendors: too often you avoid talking about the potential for problems until the problems occur, to your detriment. And message to both of you: problems are going to occur. Acknowledge that and prepare.

Bringing it home

The strongest business relationships are not built upon the absence of problems. The strongest business relationships are built on the process of solving problems … together. That is because problem solving builds trust. Every experienced professional understands that problems will occur, issues will arise, somebody will get upset. So plan for the problems by working on your shared CSR values from the start.

You do what you do because you care. And that is a good thing! So figure out that cultural fit from the start, and work at it as you go. The next mountain of a problem that arises will appear smaller … and you will climb it together. As a result, everyone will be happier AND more successful.

And your success means that our communities will be healthier. And that too is a good thing!

As always, if CSR Matters can help, please let us know.