My first foray into the world of Corporate Social Responsibility was with the United Way. That is when I learned just how important calendars are to all things that have anything to do with CSR and fundraising. Simply put, there are times of the year when certain tasks must be completed or you won’t have time to get to them for another year. So with that sense of urgency in mind, it’s that time of the year … it’s time to take a look at the CSR calendar.
Begin at the end
Every well-planned journey begins with the destination in mind. Your CSR calendar is no exception. So let’s think about what happens at the end of the CSR year:
- Depending on whose study you review, 30% to 40% of all giving occurs in the last three months of the year.
- United Way workplace campaigns, accounting for more than $4 billion annually, occur between Labor Day and the end of the year.
- Grant funding cycles for companies and corporate foundations often correspond to a calendar year, which means that funding decisions are being made at the end of one year in order to begin disbursement of funds at the beginning of the next.
- Companies are often thanking and recognizing employees for their generosity and program participation during the year.
- CSR departments begin crunching numbers at year-end, in preparation for annual reports and marketing campaigns produced at the start of the following year.
The end of the year is full of (a) lots of giving activity and (b) lots of reporting demands. Translation: Q4 is all about execution. That means that the end of the CSR year is no time for planning or decision-making. (Just ask any CSR professional you know!)
So what is going on mid-year?
The obvious answer to what is going on mid-year is that lots of preparation is underway to support the execution that is soon to occur. Yet while the “giving season” may be just around the corner, the “volunteering season” is in full swing mid-year, as are any number of other employee engagement initiatives.
Spring and summer are times when companies focus extra attention on things like:
- Getting out into the communities to work with charity partners;
- Hiring, especially for companies that hire college and post-graduate school graduates; and
- Launching seasonal marketing campaigns that take advantage of the CSR data gathered from so much year-end giving and reporting activity.
An example of how one year affects the next year
Talent acquisition is a big deal for most companies. And as Cone Communications continues to show us, young talent in particular wants to work for and buy products from companies that make a positive impact on the world around us. So, to our CSR calendar. It’s December. The annual workplace campaign is wrapping up. Several holiday volunteer projects are in full swing. The grant management team has approved a series of grant proposals that will fund STEM education-related projects – your company’s brand-identifying Signature Program – in key markets where your company has a presence. Your marketing department is stressing you for final data metrics on all of this activity so that they can build it into two brand awareness campaign updates: one targeting consumers, and the other to be used by HR as part of the annual talent search across college campuses beginning in March. Your CSR results tell a story that will differentiate your company from your competitors.
Sound stressful? It can be. So when do we have time to “think”? Time to plan ahead? Time to reflect upon what is working and what is not? … so that we can make some decisions and work change into that CSR calendar that is already marching towards … well … March? That answer leads us to …
What should be going on now
Now is the time to be evaluating your CSR programs and planning for change. You cannot afford to wait until later this year to begin thinking about the results of your employee giving, volunteering, engagement and sustainability programs. Your CSR calendar won’t wait for you! Good programs require planning and preparation … and you can’t plan effectively if you haven’t assessed the current state of your programs, employee expectations, and service vendors that you depend upon.
And to help you get started, CSR Matters recommends these 5 actions:
- Get your data. Even if everything hasn’t wrapped up completely from 2017, it doesn’t matter. Time’s a wastin’. Remember, data is a service, and you need it. Pull together your data, especially data from any online SaaS systems used to support your programs. Get it and organize it so you can analyze it.
- Analyze results against objectives. Did your programs achieve the desired results? If you can’t make that determination, then either you need to collect more / better data, or you need to reconsider your objectives and desired outcomes. By the way, your company does have clearly defined and measurable objectives, doesn’t it? Here are some helpful hints to thinking about your CSR program outcomes.
- Plan for change. These are the planning months. Hopefully you have last year’s plan as a reference. You are planning for change, improved CSR programs, better outcomes. A simple SWOT analysis that identifies strengths upon which to build and opportunities for improvement can be very helpful. Your plan for change is your roadmap to success.
- Engage your stakeholders. When was the last time you surveyed your employees, leadership, customers? For example, if CSR outcomes are part of a marketing plan to improve talent acquisition (such as in the example above), have you talked to your marketing department about what they need from you to be more successful? Engagement should be part of your plan.
- Assess technology. Do you need to consider new software, SaaS platforms, or reporting tools support your CSR strategies? If so, be sure to work this into your plan as well. Key indicators of the possible need for a switch include:
- You are having trouble getting the data you need, when you need it.
- Employee participation rates are low.
- Program goals do not align with company brand and marketing strategies.
- Your technology lacks the social interaction and user experience that drives successful consumer-based software today.
- Charity partners tell you how difficult it is to get the funds raised and associated data from your CSR programs.
- A stakeholder survey tells you so!
Most companies needing to evaluate technology use the first and second quarters of the year to evaluate and make vendor selection decisions. Why? Because of the CSR calendar. They want Q3 to focus on new implementations, so that Q4 can be focused on fundraising and reporting.
Communicate, communicate and communicate
We can’t stress this enough. Communication occurs throughout the year, obviously, but it is especially important when you are evaluating programs, selecting a new technology vendor, and implementing changes. Involve your employees upfront, and then keep them informed. Reach across key departments in the company – CSR, HR, Communications, Marketing, Legal/Compliance. Keep everyone on the same page. And be sure to talk to your key charity partners. Remember to utilize social media where appropriate.
Bringing it home
The CSR calendar – it’s a reality. One company’s calendar may differ a bit from another’s, and there are always exceptions to every rule, but the basic tasks are consistent for all of us. And right now, we are in the window of time best used for planning for the rest of the year. That includes program evaluations, new vendor selection processes, signature program development, and the like.
If your company does not have a good CSR work plan, or your CSR calendar seems out of date or missing things, then this is the time to change that too. And if we can help, give CSR Matters a call. We are CSR experts!