Having an impact on critical issues is the number one reason why corporations invest in philanthropic or socially responsible activities, according to executives in new research released by Weber Shandwick’s social impact specialty group. A second reason given for funding corporate social responsibility is the opportunity to see an organization’s values in action (25 percent).


The survey of more than 200 corporate executives in large-sized companies with responsibility for philanthropic, social responsibility or community relations was conducted by KRC Research in October.


Having an impact on critical issues (30 percent) outranked several more business-oriented motivations, such as building customer loyalty (15 percent), differentiating the company from competitors (6 percent) and engaging and retaining employees (4 percent). The latter finding underscores the need for companies to better understand the link between CSR and employee satisfaction.


“We are seeing a shift in how and why corporate social responsibility programs are undertaken,” says Weber Shandwick’s Paul Massey, co-founder of the social impact practice. “Corporations are looking at community needs and asking how they can narrow and better focus their resources and expertise to foster genuine change on specific critical issues. Given the urgent need for action in the U.S. on vital issues such as education, health and wellness, economic development and environmental sustainability, that’s encouraging news.”


The survey also asked executives about their work with nonprofit organizations. Nearly 60 percent of the executives responding to the survey said that they fund nonprofits. From their point of view, nonprofits are seen as ideal partners because they make their CSR investment more effective, provide a critical foundation and infrastructure, contribute expertise and help engage consumers. In fact, largely eight in 10 executives (79 percent) said nonprofits are “valuable partners.”


“The research validates the importance of collaboration and partnership in building successful CSR programs,” says Stephanie Bluma, co-founder of Social Impact. “Weber Shandwick’s Social Impact team has definitely seen an increase in interest from the corporate sector on how best to leverage new and existing nonprofits partnerships to create enduring and mutually beneficial social impact.”


Nearly all executives reported that strong and vocal support from senior managers (94 percent) and well-defined objectives and outcomes (91 percent) are the most important ingredients in creating successful CSR programs. In addition, 82 percent said that clearly focusing on a specific area and issue was a critical element in the viability of their CSR efforts.


“Developing a clear vision and focus for CSR works best when senior management is at the table to help narrow the choices,” says Bluma.


More than one in three corporate executives (34 percent) said that the key takeaway they learned from their organization’s implementation of CSR is how it demonstrated their company’s commitment and impact within the communities they serve. Notably, the research also found that the majority of executives (59 percent) reported an increase in communications around their community involvement over the past 12 months.


“For companies interested in making a positive social impact, the takeaway from this research is clear: well-defined CSR goals matter, as does executive support and strategic communications focused on key stakeholders,” says Massey. “The more engagement internally and externally that companies can have with nonprofits, customers and communities regarding their CSR efforts, the greater the likelihood that socially responsible citizenship will continue to rise to the top of corporate agendas and benefit us all.”