This research was conducted as part of a capstone project through the M.S. in Public Relations and Corporate Communication program at New York University.
Corporate social responsibility is still a relatively new corporate function that continues to evolve. As companies begin to assess and measure the effects their CSR programs have on the business’s reputation and profitability, CSR will increase in both scope and importance. So how will the function change?
A recent study conducted by Julia Bonner and Adam Friedman examined this question using qualitative and quantitative components. A survey was sent to more than 700 senior executives at Fortune 1000 companies via email over a period of 10 weeks, which generated 77 responses on behalf of those companies. In addition to a quantitative survey, 10 interviews were conducted with senior CSR executives from Fortune 500 companies including General Electric, IBM, Viacom, Pfizer, DuPont and Accenture.
One question sought to determine the level of involvement various parties had within the company in CSR-related decision making. Results confirm that key influencers are the C-suite and board of directors (82%). Results show other departments in the company have significant influence in the CSR process. Following the C-suite and board of directors, respondents said the legal (51%) and public relations (45%) departments were both involved nearly half the time when setting CSR strategies, and the sales (24%) and marketing (30%) departments were involved nearly a quarter of the time.
These results affirm CSR’s place within organizations. It is not an area isolated to the communication department or the C-suite. In most organizations, other departments have input in the process, which implies that CSR has permeated many disciplines within the organization
In a conversation with Justin Keeble, Senior Executive in Accenture’s Sustainability Services, on CSR-related decision making, he said decisions should be the responsibility of all departments in the corporation: “Our task is to embed this (CSR) into the consulting services we provide to our clients. We need to focus on integration. If we’re successful, we won’t be needed.”
Furthermore, in a discussion with Bob Corcoran, Vice President of Corporate Citizenship at General Electric (GE), he indicated that greater departmental involvement means greater effectiveness overall. Corcoran said, “I would submit that there is a correlation that the more embedded and real it (CSR) is or becomes in a corporation the smaller the CSR organization is because it is embedded in the muscle tissue of the company. When you see larger separate groups doing it in a company, I think it’s more likely that you’ll see white corpuscles in the corporation working to reject it because it’s somebody else doing it and it’s not my job.”
Another question addressed the effect on the business if it chose not to engage in CSR. Overwhelmingly, respondents said not engaging in CSR would have a negative effect on the company’s reputation (67%), and they also indicated the absence of CSR would have a negative effect on profitability (20%) confirming again that at least one in five businesses has a critical link between profits and CSR. While CSR may have initially been perceived as a “soft” discipline, today it has evolved into a policy that directly affects profitability.
This research shows that management must view CSR as an increasingly important function and should find ways to inject CSR strategies into all areas of their business to maximize the potential of their CSR strategies. As CSR becomes integrated into the fabric of businesses, practitioners contend that the best indication of successful CSR programs will be that company CSR practices will become part of every employee’s job description and responsibility.
Julia Bonner completed this research for her capstone project while a graduate student at NYU. Adam Friedman is an adjunct professor at NYU and with the firm Adam Friedman Associates.