Good CSR programs – successful CSR programs – require evaluation. There’s no avoiding it. Like any other aspect of your business, there is a process for managing the work and achieving success … a lifecycle. And the CSR program lifecycle isn’t complicated: just plan, execute and EVALUATE. Then repeat.

Why do I capitalize “evaluate”? Because in my experience, it is the step most often overlooked. And without a commitment to program evaluation, your CSR program lifecycle ends in a death spiral, and then you are just wasting your CSR investment.

So let’s take a closer look at the CSR program lifecycle and pay some extra attention to the role of program evaluations.

A little background

I’ve spent the majority of my career helping companies assess and evaluate their CSR programs – corporate matching, workplace giving, employee engagement, and more.  Along the way, one lesson has become crystal clear – companies must make evaluation a regular and ongoing part of any CSR strategy and program management plan.

It’s amazing how quickly programs can become stale and routine. The workforce is dynamic and constantly changing, stakeholders have evolving expectations, new technologies can make real differences in the way we measure and communicate results, impact. That’s why I refer to a CSR Program lifecycle. The way we renew and re-energize programs is through evaluation … evaluation breaths new life into our CSR programs.

CSR programs are meant to be vibrant and full of life – like spring! If not evaluating them, companies will end up with programs “in a death spiral”, not meeting the needs of the company, its employees, and our communities.

A word about metrics

“Evaluation” means “metrics” … numbers, outcomes, impact. And business guru Peter Drucker says it best:

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.

CSR programs are no different. Every good CSR program only gets better if we use performance metrics to guide us. So don’t let my ‘shout out’ for numbers make you think ‘boring’, ‘accountants’ or ‘it’s just data’. Metrics are necessary, helpful and – dare I say – even interesting!

To get into the weeds a bit, my journey has taught me that there are three primary reasons why your company needs to evaluate its CSR programs just like any other part of the business, using numbers:

  1. Ensure your programs are adding value to the company’s brand.
  2. Make certain your programs are meeting the needs of key stakeholders.
  3. Identify opportunities to achieve greater results and have greater social impact.

And shame on me for not saying so yet: NOW is the best time of the year to evaluate. Don’t believe me? Read more about the CSR Calendar.

What to Evaluate in the CSR Program Lifecycle

A CSR program evaluation can require more or less effort, depending on the age of the programs and strategic needs of your company. For example, if you’ve launched or expanded CSR programs in the past 18 to 24 months, this is a good time to evaluate metrics, outcomes, and supporting systems (call this a “program evaluation”). You will want to compare them to goals and objectives in order to assess overall impact. If programs are older, if outcomes are nebulous, if the C-suite is asking lots of questions that can’t be answered, then you may need more comprehensive assessments, perhaps including stakeholder surveys as part of a more thorough investigation (call this a “strategic assessment”).

In addition, depending upon what you learn from either approach, you may end up needing to improve cross-departmental activities (such as between CSR and Marketing), looking for new vendor services, take a fresh look at your CSR Reporting, or seeking out new community partnerships as part of a corporate signature program.

But don’t panic.

You don’t need to rush into all of the above. You just need to get started with the discipline of regular CSR program evaluation. Dig into metrics and outcomes, then compares them to goals and objectives. That’s where we start.

A bit of self-serving promotion

To help our clients with their CSR program evaluation needs, my firm, CSR Matters, offers Program Evaluation, Strategic Assessment, Vendor Selection, and Community Partnership Development services. We have developed a set of proprietary CSR Scorecards that help us help you undertake the right-sized evaluation of your programs. The Scorecards begin with self-assessment questionnaires to baseline program objectives and goals. Then we take clients through a multi-step evaluation that fits the size and needs of their CSR practices. Tasks can include some or all of the following:

  • Measuring outcomes against goals and objectives.
  • Interviewing senior leadership to get their perspectives and expectations.
  • Evaluating brand alignments against CSR goals and objectives.
  • Reviewing communication strategies.
  • Surveying key stakeholders.
  • Benchmarking against peers and industry data.
  • Developing an action plan to improve performance and program outcomes.
Benefits and ‘bringing it home’

Our best advice: don’t ignore the need to evaluate because you are busy, or under-resourced, or have never gone through a program evaluation before. That’s why experts like CSR Matters do what we do – we help make you and your CSR programs more successful.

Peter Drucker IS correct. If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. And from years of experience, I would like to add the following: if you won’t measure it, you can’t improve it either.

The benefits of program evaluations range from improving program performance to communicating success with all stakeholders, such as your C-suite and your communities.

Brand is everything these days. Does your company have extra cash flow as a result of the tax cuts? Why not put a little of that to good use … by focusing on your CSR program lifecycle. You have planned. And executed. Now evaluate! Then we can turn what we learn back into improved program performance.

Better CSR programs will drive business relationships, attract and retain talent, support local communities, and connect your corporate values – your corporate conscience – to everything else your company does. So why wait?

CSR Matters is standing by to help.