The CSR Continuum is a useful tool to help organizations understand the current state of Corporate Social Responsibility activity. Furthermore, it helps us consider strategies and next steps for clients interested in expanding their CSR footprint and investment.

The CSR Continuum refers to the five stages of Corporate Social Responsibility activity engaged in by companies and organizations. Understanding where your company lies in the CSR Continuum is important to evolving your programs and improving your brand. The five stages are:CSR Continuum

1. Benefits programs

A few programs are conducted each year, usually administered by Human Resources departments. The intent is to provide incentives to employees who are philanthropically minded. For example, Matching Gifts programs were one of the earliest examples of CSR programs. They were offered by Fortune-level companies, typically matching gifts to an executive’s alma mater.

2. Workplace giving

Programs are extended more generally to the entire workforce. Company leadership gets behind the programs, with the dual purpose of helping communities and generating positive PR for the company. United Way campaigns are excellent examples of workplace giving, as disaster relief and blood drive programs.

3. Cause marketing

Recognizing the importance of associating corporate brands with social responsibility, cause marketing looks outwardly to the customer, in order to align CSR activity with marketing efforts to reach and strengthen relationships. As such, these are “dual purpose” promotional campaigns whereby a business seeks to both improve profitability and benefit a social cause.

4. Employee engagement

CSR turns to employee engagement as companies involve their employees in the programs and practices of the company such that the employee takes positive steps to further the organization’s interests or reputation. Practical CSR applications of employee engagement include Dollars for Doers, team volunteering, stakeholder surveys to assess employee community interests, and other events and activities involving community-based charities.

5. Corporate citizenship

Corporate Citizenship occurs when the operations of a corporation recognize and focus on a broad set of social responsibilities, including legal, ethical, environmental and philanthropic responsibilities towards all stakeholders. To CSR Matters, “Corporate Citizenship” also implies greater interaction with the other “citizens” of our communities. A company practicing Corporate Citizenship is not simply conducting programs that provide measurable benefits to the communities in which it operates, but it is actively engaged as a partner with other participants in the community to produce better results. For example, a giving campaign might reach beyond employees to customers, suppliers or business partners in order to achieve more impact.

We reference these stages as a “continuum” because the practice of CSR is somewhat fluid for companies. Companies may move from one stage to another as they mature, but also may operate in more than one stage at any point in time.

CSR Matters can help you figure out where your company is on the CSR Continuum, and more importantly, where you need to be. Contact CSR Matters today.