When it comes to corporate social responsibility, will 2020 be the year big business walks the walk?

corporate social responsibility

Vollie co-founders Matthew Boyd and Tanya Dontas.

As much as we don’t want to admit it, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a sort of tick-box exercise for big business. It’s seen as an obligation — something they have to do and quotas they are required to fill. In some instances, CSR is not perceived as a legitimate part of a business strategy or a factor for success, and hence, is deprioritised.

Of course, there are notable exceptions here — Atlassian, REA Group, Salesforce — but they remain outliers from the vast majority, and big business still has a long way to go. While there’s been a slow but noticeable shift happening, it begs the question: ‘Will 2020 be the year big businesses finally get their CSR shit together?’

Increasingly, consumers are taking a stand against companies who do not operate some form of social commitment. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer noted the majority of consumers have growing concerns about brands’ impact on society, and over half think companies have a responsibility to be involved in a social issue that doesn’t directly impact their business.

Remember, consumers are not just purchasing power, but potential employees too. Businesses need to think about how the future workforce — millennials and gen Z — perceive them as future employers, and more millennials are demanding ethical practice and corporate giving from their prospective employers.

Research shows that two-thirds of millennials won’t even consider taking a job if the company doesn’t have strong CSR values.

It’s clear that while there may be many incidences when millennials’ stereotype of being entitled and self-centred rings true, when it comes to CSR and volunteering, this isn’t the case.

Our data shows millennials, when compared with other generations, are much more generous with their time when it comes to helping others.

Over two-fifths of those on our platform (which connects skilled people to not-for-profits and charities for skills-based volunteering) are 24- to 34-year-olds — more than double the number of people aged 35–44 using the service.

This will no doubt continue to increase, based on recent SEEK research showing 30% of millennials intend to volunteer in the coming 12 months.

Gen Z too appears to be following suit. Our data shows a continuous increase in the number of 18- to 24-year-olds volunteering, and based on the conversations I have had with university students, these numbers will only increase as this cohort progresses their careers.

If companies want to attract the talent they need to grow, they really need to ensure their CSR effort is a meaningful endeavour, rather than just an illusion to project for image’s sake.

They certainly need to avoid becoming the next Volkswagon scandal, or doing a Coles of 2020. The aptly named plastic bag ban ‘backflip’ was certainly not their proudest moment (sorry, Coles, but you really stuffed it with that one).

So how do you go about it?

With an ever-growing array of options for businesses to consider for CSR, there’s no excuse anymore.

Seminars from visiting charity representatives, folding T-shirts, or scooping animal poop can all still be valuable exercises, of course. But in a world where gen Z is demanding more responsibility from these corporations, it’s not the most logical option anymore.

Businesses need to offer employees a range of ways they can get involved with a charity or volunteer group. Everyone has unique causes close to their hearts, unique skillsets, and unique availabilities.

Giving staff the opportunity to design the way they give back around their own lifestyle maximises employee satisfaction. Not to mention, it’s also the most effective and productive way to maximise your business’ positive impact.

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