We set out to answer a simple question: What are the SDG reporting capabilities of current CSR software? Then we learned that the “simple question” wasn’t so simple. Join us in Part 2 of this two-part series as we explore examples of SDG reporting hard at work.
In Part 1, we addressed the reality that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a broad concept, covering multiple corporate disciplines. This makes for quite a challenge. In particular, the marketplace for software supporting CSR activities is fragmented. For example, while sustainability practices and software are more mature, employee engagement software is an emerging market. So much so, in fact, that Gartner’s Hype Cycle believes that “Worker Engagement” is still in the 5 to 10 year period that most software traverses before reaching the “peak of inflated expectations.” (Gotta love that descriptor!)
Nevertheless, we concluded Part 1 with some clarity around the growing importance of SDG reporting to CSR program activities. We discussed opportunities to close gaps in the “data chain” that turns program activities into measurable impact that fulfills an SDG. And finally, we noted helpful reference tools for CSR practitioners, including GRI’s Integrating SDGs into Corporate Reporting: A Practical Guide.
Now we turn to concrete examples of CSR software platforms incorporating SDGs into their user experience and reporting capacity. In Part 2, we shine light on the progress being made while also offering an opportunity for CSR software vendors to tell a bit of their story. And as a result, I hope that we all learn something new as we spur forward industry capacity for SDG reporting.
Setting the SDG reporting stage
Good news. Every CSR software provider within whom I spoke is tracking the importance that corporate America is placing on SDGs. Some vendors are wired into UN SDG reporting developments as a matter of commitment to the mission. For others, it is a matter of listening to customers and responding to their needs around SDGs.
There is a definite divide in the marketplace, however, based on the size of the client company. It won’t surprise you to learn that the greatest interest in SDG reporting is found in the slice of corporate America that is already globally focused and producing annual CSR reports. While much of the mid-market is following the discussion, they just won’t drive the change with as much force. As a result, CSR software companies focused on enterprise clients are more likely to be developing and offering SDG reporting solutions than their mid-market neighbors.
So let’s get started. First, remember this diagram from Part 1?
We referred to this as a very rough architecture of the future state of CSR software. The goal is to gather and aggregate inputs from activities (Steps 1 and 2). Then convert them to impact measurements (Step 3). From there, the outputs and analytics can then help influence societal changes for the better (Step 4). We have no such all-in-one software platform today.
With this architecture concept in mind, I want to look at three software platforms that align program inputs with SDG reporting categories (Steps 1 and 2). Then, we will look at two companies focused on the outputs and impact (Steps 3 and 4).
Benevity’s foray into SDG reporting began a couple of years ago talking with clients. One after another expressed a dual challenge. As expressed to me by Sona Khosla, Benevity’s VP of Marketing, clients were asking:
How do we educate our stakeholders – especially employees – about SDGs, while simultaneously mobilizing them towards one or more SDG that we want to get behind?
Both Benevity and its clients wanted to do more than report on existing activities. So they worked together and in June of this year, Benevity announced the release of the newest product on its CSR platform, Spark – Missions. With Spark supporting traditional CSR programs such as giving, volunteering and matching, in addition to their grantmaking products, Missions provides a more purpose-driven employee engagement solution enhancement. Missions focuses on positive actions and allowing every employee to participate, regardless of time, money or role. And with a library of activities, Missions enables clients and their employees to participate in programs designed towards achieving SDG-related outcomes. Currently, ‘Missions’ are offered for sustainability-related activities. Future releases are planned for disaster response and diversity. And the product offers clients the flexibility to create Missions of their own.
I asked Sona how Missions data is being aggregated and used, especially SDG-related data. Initially, data is focused at the individual client level, so that companies can learn about their own programs and employees. In time, however, Benevity will study aggregated data across all participating clients, while the companies, hopefully, will begin to use their own data to drive changes in their own CSR programs.
For example, with SDG markers now part of their data structures, Benevity can see that the top 3 SDG categories for giving over the past three years have been:
- Sustainable Cities and Communities (#11),
- Quality Education (#4), and
- Good Health and Well-being (#3).
With clients now able to associate their own CSR programs and individual charity recipients with SDGs, both Benevity and their clients are anxious to see how preferences may change with time and data!
With much accomplished, Benevity recognizes that there is still much more to do. As Sona put it: “We believe the entire market still needs to come together around this challenge. It’s more than tracking or measuring or even communicating around SDGs. It’s about improving the world that we share.”
At WeSpire, employee engagement is all about measurement. And that is good news for anyone searching for SDG reporting best practices. Platforms designed for data outputs and measurement are clearly starting with the end result in mind. WeSpire’s unique value proposition, however, may be in its focus on a market defined by Gartner as Workforce Engagement, not CSR. Founder & CEO Susan Hunt Stevens explains: “Our clients are looking for a unified platform that can both engage their employees and integrate with other workforce-related systems – HRIS, rewards, volunteering, giving. And so we view the giving and volunteering components of CSR as subsets of a larger employee engagement strategy and experience. The desired outcome for all of our clients is the ability to measure program impacts (energy saved, hours volunteered, improved employee happiness). More importantly, though, is the impact these programs have (or don’t have) on employee referral, retention and performance.”
WeSpire’s technology – measurement driven – was readily adapted for SDG engagement and SDG reporting. The first challenge was helping clients to inform employees about SDGs – what are they, and why are they important? So WeSpire created a campaign for that. And with game mechanics to inspire worker participation, WeSpire clients can access hundreds of Campaigns, Competitions and Events to launch activities supporting company CSR programs and delivering on desired SDG objectives. APIs tie into other workforce-related systems. And gift fulfillment for employee giving programs are fulfilled via strategic partners. “We have to be part of a larger eco-sphere,” says Susan.
Even more impressive is the community developing among WeSpire clients. “Clients can use our activity libraries or create their own,” explains Susan. “Better still, clients can share campaigns that they create with the entire community of companies on our platform. Roughly 70% of the activities in the WeSpire library have been created by and shared among our clients.”
WeSpire also recognizes short-comings in the industry when it comes to data, outcomes and measurement. Like Benevity, they believe that more stakeholders in the industry need to come together in order to truly measure impact and deliver on the promise of SDG reporting. The industry – CSR or Workforce Engagement (using Gartner’s term) – certainly has come a long way. For example, “volunteering” as a corporate activity is no longer a matter of tracking hours and assigning a monetary value. Nor is it simply matching an opportunity with a volunteer worker. Today’s volunteering software strives to engage workers with opportunities in order to create meaningful social outcomes, as well as drive improved business performance.
And hopefully, soon, demonstrate progress towards one or more SDGs.
YourCause saw the value of providing companies and nonprofits with the ability to declare, track and report on the UN’s SDGs early on. Founder and CEO Matt Combs saw both a market opportunity and a business responsibility to develop a free, “best in class” solution to incorporate SDG reporting into the functionality of their existing platform. The desired result would be to help move the proverbial ‘global SDG needle’. To accomplish this important task, YourCause created in-depth functionality within CSRconnect that gives companies and employees visibility into the SDGs associated to each individual nonprofit. Furthermore, tracking and reporting capabilities display CSR impact by SDG.
Working with the 17 SDGs wasn’t enough, however, as YourCause decided to provide the same in-depth functionality for the 230 indicators, or sub-goals, underlying the SDGs. Through account profiles in NPOconnect, nonprofits align their organization programs with SDG indicators. In turn, this creates a more in-depth view into their organizational impact vis-a-vis SDGs. Plus, this alignment better partners companies with the nonprofits that complement the company’s overall CSR program mission.
“The concept of impact measurement is a consistent conversation topic among CSR practitioners,” says Dustin Joost, VP of Sales for YourCause. “Our clients began integrating SDGs and Impact2030 initiatives into their programs. And we saw it as an opportunity to create a common language around impact measurement. It creates the foundation for us and our clients to continue collaborating on building the most scalable, yet flexible approach to impact measurement. And it helps corporations align with something larger than themselves – a global movement that is already recognized outside of CSR.”
YourCause is already taking steps to aggregate and share early SDG findings across its client base. And speaking as experts to the industry, CSR Matters is excited to get our hands on more data to work with. In its 2018 Industry Review, YourCause shared an initial set of of SDG statistics for each SDG, including the number of nonprofits declaring alignment with each, as well as donation and volunteer hour contribution details. While this data does not yet reflect the holy grail of outcomes and community impact, it is an important step forward. We look forward to more good ‘data things’ to come on this front.
Led by CEO Tony Wong, Alaya Consulting has taken on an ambitious approach advocating integrated reporting. Alaya is an ESG consulting company operating out of Hong Kong, where ESG impact measurement has taken on a great deal of attention.
For those not familiar with the term, ‘integrated reporting’ incorporates non-financial metrics into traditional financial metric reporting frameworks. The objective is to derive a more in-depth picture of a company’s medium and long term risk and health profile.
In addition to helping clients illustrate their business model through integrated reporting, Alaya has just released version 1 of InfoSymm, a technology platform designed to record non-financial metrics and roll them into an index for the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX). InfoSymm relies on KKEX ESG Reporting Guidelines and is working with GRI as a data partner.
Does it seem like we are drifting to far afield from CSR and SDG reporting? Don’t worry – we are not. Remember that rough architecture diagram for the future of CSR reporting? Alaya is working on the right side of the diagram, Steps 3 and 4. Through smart technology, Alaya turns CSR or SDG-related data into a meaningful integrated reporting picture of a company. InfoSymm also has the capacity to produce ESG reporting from the data inputs collected on the companies in its database.
Why is this important? Because it begins to close the gap between CSR program activity data (left side of diagram) and societal behavior changes that produce a better world (right side of diagram). It is a big gap to bridge – let’s have no illusions about that. Pioneer bridge builders, however, are needed. Hats off to Alaya.
United Way Worldwide
We cannot leave the topic of SDG reporting without checking in on United Way. Why? Because in spite of mission changes and a loss of stature within CSR (or Workplace Giving), United Way remains a force with tremendous potential to impact CSR for the better. So what are they up to? The answer may surprise you.
Lots of us have been following announcements related to Salesforce Philanthropy Cloud. SPC is United Way’s newest technology initiative, delivered in partnership with Salesforce, promising to be a game changer in giving. Through SPC, United Way is creating a marketplace for giving. A place where people give, companies sponsor programs, and nonprofits share impact stories. And most importantly, where all stakeholders participate in shared goals to achieve positive social change. 2018 has witnessed the initial rollout of giving, with volunteering soon to come, followed by analytics and other upgrades. Think United Way impact powered by Salesforce tech smarts.
What you may not know, however, is that United Way Worldwide (UWW) is partnering with the UN Global Sustainability Index Institute in order to advance the cause of accelerating global SDG implementation. Think the power of feeding the UN Global Sustainability Index with data from 1200+ United Way organizations around the globe. Lots of potential.
I caught up with William Browning, United Way’s SVP for Digital Transformation, traveling (racing?) between Alexandria, VA, London and San Francisco. William is bullish on United Way’s opportunities, working with so many key partners to facilitate further transformation. For starters, more than 20 local United Ways are taking part in the SPC rollout, introducing the product to their corporate clients. Pulling all of this together and aligning with the UN Global Sustainability Index, however, is where the rubber meets the road. Local United Ways are great at demonstrating local community impact. Soon, United Way expects to measure the collective impact of thousands of United Way partners and stakeholders on the world around us.
A shout out to other vendors in the market
While not profiled above, several companies that I talked with are paying close attention to SDG reporting needs. And some plan to tackle such capabilities in a 2019 release. Among these, Bright Funds, CyberGrants, and FrontStream all recognize that clients are asking about SDG reporting. And that the market is responding. Also, StratusLiVE has impressive analytics capabilities already built into their platform. Turning this loose on SDGs could boast quite a powerful tool.
To CSR software vendors not highlighted in this article, if I have overlooked your capabilities, please let me know. I will happily update this article – the topic is important, and new developments are a given as we march towards 2019. Competition breeds new development and product differentiation.
Bringing it home
Whew! For a while, the more I researched this SDG reporting topic, the more there was to write. But finally I am bringing this to close.
SDG reporting matters! And the bottom line: there is a lot going on in the arena of CSR, Workforce Engagement, SDGs and technology. Several takeaways that I want to note, as I reflect on both Parts 1 and 2 of this series.
First, given the complexity and fragmentation that defines the CSR industry, I want to echo WeSpire’s approach to technology solutions for this space. There will not be one system, one solution that reaches from activity inputs to community outcome measurements to global impact reporting. Quite frankly, it’s not possible. But if we step back, like WeSpire, we can envision the data flow that we need – from local activities to global solutions. With APIs, integrations, analytics and more. Or, perhaps more simply put:
When it comes to CSR solution building and SDG reporting, think globally, act locally.
Because changing lives and communities for the better locally really can make a world of difference.
Second, the depth and breadth of data markers is illustrated well in solutions from Benevity and YourCause. Driving beyond the SDGs to the indicator level enables better company-nonprofit alignment. And hopefully, it will lead to better outcome measurement.
Third, I applaud the bold vision we see from Alaya and United Way. In particular, I cannot think of organization with greater capacity to marshal local resources and connect them to global outcomes than United Way. With UN SDGs providing a framework, United Way could be the glue that holds all stakeholders together. Not with the only solution. Not at the expense of local solutions. But with a shared vision that everyone who wants to can tap into.
And finally, let’s look forward to more progress. It is one thing for countries to track and report on progress towards UN recommended SDGs. It is something entirely different to provide the means for individuals, communities, nonprofits and companies to share a vision and see the difference being made.
As always, if you like this article, let us know. If you need help with a CSR-activity, let us know that, too!