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7 Signs You've Got a Great CSR Report

jennifer boynton headshotWords by Jen Boynton
Leadership & Transparency
We've partnered with AHA!, a creative communications firm, to deliver this series on CR communications. Throughout the series, we'll explore why your company's CR communications plan should go beyond the CSR report and give you tools to keep communication flowing all year long. Read the rest here.
There are plenty of signs that you have a lousy CSR report. Bloggers (including us!) might tell you, and if they don't, you can take any radio silence that comes after your report launch as a sign that it was not as groundbreaking as it could have been. But how do you know when you've got a successful report? Here are seven signs Christian Hicks, Creative Director of Corporate Responsibility at AHA! uses to determine if a company has a great report: 1. Your report is positive and forward looking. While it's important to cover the struggles you've had meeting sustainability goals, the overall tone of the report should focus on the positive. What are the solutions and how is your company working to solve problems? 2. It's simple and clear. Sustainability is a huge issue. It’s full of complexity: climate change, water, health and education are all incredibly complicated and unwieldy for any one organization to tackle successfully. Of course, your company's sustainability initiatives are tied to those big issues. Their societal importance is one of the reasons you're putting your efforts there. A successful report won't fall into the trap of keeping the discussion at the higher level - it'll bring it down to the groups and communities affected. A complicated issue like water access can be made simple when a company takes the time to explain why it invested in that issue, what impacts it has had to date, and what plans it has for the future. 3. It builds trust. A CSR report is an opportunity to create a connection with your audience. Trust is about being vulnerable and honest. Use CSR communications as a way to admit your shortcomings - so long as you focus on what you're going to do about them. 4. It engages rather than explains. A great CSR report should give readers many ways to engage with the content therein. Your reader will ask, "How does this affect me? What can I do about it?" and a great report will include calls to action and outlets for those impulses. 5. It goes against the grain. It’s really easy to take shortcuts when telling your sustainability story, many companies have had, and overcome, similar challenges. But don't let your report become clichéd. Obviously, it's a lot harder to organize and present ideas in new ways. However, the best way to make news is to do something new. How is your sustainability story different and interesting? Your readers want to know. 6. It borrows a halo. A great CSR program will associate the company with others who are doing good work, like well-regarded non-profits in a similar field. If your connection is sincere and multi-faceted, your company will be perceived as one that does good and also one that is willing to work with others - a great asset! 7. It's social. A CSR report is made up of more than the stories and the people who wrote them. It's for every member of the stakeholder community. CSR can't be done alone. Recognize that once it’s out it’s not your story anymore. It’s not exclusively yours. A successful report builds on that by giving readers ways to engage and build on the contents of the report. Don't forget to tell your story all year long! Readers: What do you think of this list? Is there an 8th sign? [Image credit: Michael of Scott, Flickr]