Engaging Your C-Suite in CSR - A Four Part Blog

A recent survey of Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s corporate partners emphasized the importance of the C-Suite as stakeholders when promoting Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives within corporations. This makes sense, as corporate executives are more than the ‘de jure’ leaders of their organizations, they also help set the tone and vision for the company. 
However, engaging corporate executives in CSR can be particularly challenging as they often deal with competing interests. And in order for CSR programming to be really effective, it’s critical to get executives engaged. Moreover, that engagement has to be deeper than a connection to a cause or a particular philanthropic effort. To get C-Suite buy-in the connection between CSR programming and the organization’s business purpose has to make sense – for the company’s CSR program, for the executive, and for the enterprise/business. As CSR professionals, this should sound familiar. We too have to balance what can seem like competing interests as we manage and articulate corporate focus areas, while cultivating employee interest, and meeting social need.
If you want executive buy in on your CSR programming, it’s critical that your programming be steeped in the 3 Ws – the Why, the What, and the hoW. 
Executives are high level thinkers with a penchant for risk taking. But, they can also be conservative – the latter due to the nature of trying to constantly balance competing interests. It’s best when promoting your vision for CSR to focus on purpose, verifiable metrics, and (to the extent possible) to be concise and direct. In his 2011 viral primer on the importance of passion Start With Why, @SimonSinek argues that resources and hype can’t overcome the power of a dedicated vision, and a clear sense of your Why. 
So what is CSR’s Why? CSR professionals are passionate humanists with a proclivity towards metrics and impact. We believe that many of the problems left to be solved are too big to be addressed in isolation and feel that the corporation as an entity has a key role (and particular promise) as a mechanism for positive social change. So, sharing your passion and vision of a world without said problems is a great way to start. In practical terms, that means establishing a vision statement
One or two sentences (did I mention that’s it’s important to be concise?) on your vision of the problems your work will solve will go very far in enlisting the C-Suite to the cause. When creating your vision statement it’s important to capture your Why - your infectious enthusiasm for the problems you will solve together, while also embracing the critical work of your organization’s enterprise. In short, it’s important that you are willing to co-create solutions with your organization’s leadership that aligns to your organization’s core strength(s) and raison d’etre. 
Forming an advisory council is one way to do this. A regular check-in that is high level, cross-functional, and that models collaboration (or competition – depending on your organization’s values) in the pursuit of solutions that impact the whole organization can be a nexus for your CSR efforts. With these efforts you can work to co-design your intent, establish meaningful goals that serve more interests, and get clear on how invested your leadership truly is in CSR.
Coming up: Engaging Your C-Suite in CSR: Charting the Path Ahead
Have a different or similar perspective? Please feel free to share your experience with me on Twitter @iiikaizeniii or LinkedIn, and let’s keep the conversation going.
SVCF is hosting a day-long Corporate Philanthropy conference for CR practitioners on December 1, 2016, themed, “Be Courageous”. To learn more or to register, click here