Soon blogs across all industries will be awash with predictions of trends for 2019. As I reflected on one year coming to a close and prepare for the new, I decided not to predict a trend. Predictions for a new year, after all, are totally dependent on market forces to sort out over the next 12 months. Instead, I want to share my Christmas wish for CSR 2019.

Why share a wish? Isn’t that even less compelling than analysis and prediction? 

Well, to a degree, maybe. Before I share my Christmas wish with you, I will provide a bit of background … which is sort of like analysis. But rather than telling you what I think we will all be doing in the CSR industry for 2019, I want to tell you what I hope we will be doing. And that is something different. 

Sharing a wish is an expression of hope. And I am hopeful for our industry in the coming year. And hopefully, you will agree, and may even be inspired to share my Christmas wish for CSR 2019 with others. 

 2018 Starts with a Bang

Two events stick out in my mind as we look back on the start of the year.

First, economic recovery kicked into high gear amidst the Trump tax cuts which had passed in December 2017. As a result, one company after another pledged to raise wages, award bonuses, invest in training, and contribute more to CSR programs. 

Second, in January Blackrock CEO Larry Fink issued his annual letter to CEOs entitled A Sense of Purpose. As leader of the world’s largest asset manager, Fink challenged corporate America by stating that, henceforth, Blackrock would monitor both financial and non-financial metrics. Both sets of indicators represent the type of management necessary to ensure that stakeholder expectations for public companies would be met not just today, but tomorrow as well.

Furthermore, Fink stated that those non-financial metrics – environmental, social and governance indicators, or ESGs –

Demonstrate the leadership and good governance that is so essential to sustainable growth.

If you work in the CSR industry, as I do, how could you help but be excited about the prospects for 2018?

As the Year Progressed

With the prospects for CSR on solid footing, 2018 held much promise. 

  • Search on ‘STEM’, a favored area of focus for corporate CSR programs, and you can find article after article about increased funding for STEM curricula based programs (STEM = science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
  • Search ‘diversity and inclusion’ or ’employee engagement’. As companies increasingly focus on talent acquisition and retention – especially as job markets tighten – CSR programs like those just mentioned have become  undeniably important to developing company cultures that will attract and retain workers.
  • In June, Giving USA’s latest report on charitable giving gave us a shot in the arm, as giving by corporations in 2017 was up 8% over the prior, a higher rate of growth than giving by individuals, foundations or bequests. 
  • ‘Workforce optimization’ has definitely become a thing. In 2018, Gartner’s 2017 Magic Quadrant for Workforce Engagement Management software was cited, referenced and analyzed again and again and again, in blog posts, articles and white papers. Why is this telling? It is simple, really. Now that companies can monitor, measure, and analyze a wide variety of employee engagement indicators, vendors have a growing market ready to spend money on the software necessary to do this work.

The Trend Behind the Trends

That last bullet is the key. So much of 2018 CSR activity and progress has centered around employee engagement and measurement. And this important progress for CSR. Step back and consider the four disciplines that are cobbled together into most CSR strategies:

  1. Sustainability
  2. Employee engagement
  3. Governance
  4. Philanthropy

Sustainability efforts have been well-funded by companies long before Corporate Social Responsibility was a discipline. Why? Because sustainability efforts can be measured, ROIs demonstrated, and positive outcomes proven.

But the other three – employee engagement, governance and philanthropy – have long remained the ‘squishy’ disciplines of CSR. We know we want results out of them, but we are not in agreement on what to measure, how to measure, and especially, how to prove an ROI. 

In recent years, however, that has changed for employee engagement. Gartner isn’t the only source tracking a software industry that supports employee engagement. This industry is a big deal. And perhaps more interesting to CSR professionals, we have learned that employee engagement is the best indicator for achieving success in another squishy CSR discipline, philanthropy. 

So the trend behind the trends for CSR in 2018 has been the ability to measure and analyze. If it can be measured, it will be. Companies will put a budget around it. Experts will figure out how to improve it. And this is probably the most important CSR trend going into 2019 (if you are looking for that ‘2019 trends blog’ that I haven’t written yet!).

But what does all of this have to do with a Christmas Wish for 2019 CSR?

A Christmas Wish for 2019 CSR

First, let me wish each of you taking the time to read this post a very Merry Christmas. And let me thank you for all the good work that you do.

In addition, I would like to remind all of us in this sometimes-crazy industry that Corporate Social Responsibility is forever indebted to Christmas for its humble beginnings. I won’t repeat the history here, but corporate charity, especially in America, is rooted in faith and Christmas. It should be no small surprise, by the way, that ‘charity’ comes from the Latin word ‘caritas’ which means ‘love.’

Side note: For anyone who starts to feel uncomfortable talking about faith and anything corporate, my advice is “Dismiss those feelings!” From our motivation to work and care for the people we love, to the diversity that runs throughout our society, we are a people of faith. Faith defines so much about us, our communities, and especially, the charitable organizations we create to serve our neighbors in need.

And so now we come to my Christmas wish for the CSR industry:

I wish for our industry – amidst any trends of software, metrics, analysis, and ROIs – that we remember to include our neediest neighbors and communities in our CSR strategy plans for 2019. 

The impact of philanthropy on our neighbors who need us most is often difficult to measure. Fulfilling the basic needs for a family is not a measurement that tells us whether that family has been impacted for the better for the long term. It may be just a matter of feeding, clothing and housing. For a day, a week, a month. Yet even if impact cannot be easily measured, meeting basic needs is critically important to the fabric of our communities, our society.

So what do the statistics tell us?

While the number of people receiving food stamps is declining this year, 14 million kids in this country go to bed or school hungry. On any given night, half a million Americans are homeless. Deaths by accidental drug overdose now exceed those by car accident, firearms, or HIV/AIDS. Unemployment rates are low, but demands for quality job training are not falling because of economic and job churn. Addiction and mental health services are strained to their limits. 

I could go on, citing more statistics, state by state statistics, stats looking at social service needs globally. But that really isn’t the point. Better if you take a bit of time and look into these issues for your community. Because that is where the need is. It is on the ground, in our communities, and sometimes where you least expect it. Often, we have to go looking for the needs to really understand them.

There are lots of ways to increase our commitments to our neediest neighbors. Talk with your peers – good ideas are always contagious. A few ideas to start the brain storming:

  • Increase the match ratio for giving to basic needs services.
  • Focus a special event once a year to a particular cause voted on by your employees, such as meeting the needs of the homeless, the hungry, job skills development, or people suffering from addiction.
  • Ask your office to adopt a charity of choice and develop a volunteer support program. 
  • Search the Internet for ideas. Here’s an article with 36 ways small businesses can give back
  • Contact your local United Way. They keep their hands on the pulse of our communities everywhere. 

And for a special bonus, as you increase your commitments to our neediest neighbors, you just may find that your employee morale goes up … and so does your company’s reputation.

Bringing it Home

I’d like to wrap up my Christmas Wish for CSR 2019 with one other reminder from our Christmas heritage:

For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you will, you can do good to them.

Mark 14:7

For 2019, I am sure the CSR industry will plow forward with employee engagement initiatives, sustainability programs, and sponsorships that connect corporate and charitable brands. And look for new and improved software to better manage all of this work. Everything I have just mentioned makes us better at what we do and more effective as an industry. And that is good. 

But as Mark reminds us with words nearly 2000 years old, let’s not leave our neighbors in need out of our CSR plans. Let’s do good to them, too.