What CSR Pros Need to Know About Integrated External Engagement

By Chris O’Reilly

For corporate social responsibility (CSR) to be successful, companies need to incorporate interaction with every stakeholder into decision-making, no matter the level of the organization. Traditional corporate philanthropy efforts are not delivering what companies — and society — need. As consumers continue to demand CSR efforts be present, companies must take a step back and find the most effective approach to CSR. With 57 percent of consumers stating they would purchase a product of lesser quality from a company that is more socially responsible, this aspect of a business is becoming crucial.

A solution answering the problems of traditional corporate philanthropy methods is integrated external engagement (IEE).  Here you will find what it means, how it relates to CSR and why you should care:

What is IEE and its relation to CSR?

External engagements are the efforts that a company makes to manage how it interacts with the external world. Some of these efforts can be in forms of community programs or political lobbying, and include aspects of recruiting policy, project execution and product design. Typically, companies use CSR teams and annual progress reviews in place of external engagements, but this traditional approach doesn’t seem to be cutting it.

The traditional approach has some positives, such as the consideration of the external environment and how it affects relationships. However, in many cases, CSR has failed in the actual creation of relationships in the external world and with stakeholders.

“The problem companies are facing is that the consumers do not know what companies are doing. Between 56 and 61 percent of consumers across the 15 largest markets in the world are neutral or unsure if the companies can be trusted to deliver on these CSR dimensions. The reason is twofold. First, companies have not communicated about what they do in a relevant and clear way. In addition, they are doing many programs which are not relevant to their stakeholders,” said Kasper Nielsen, executive partner at the Reputation Institute.

Why should you care about IEE?

Utilizing integrated external engagement in CSR initiatives allows for great competitive advantage. A shared core idea among many experts is that companies must integrate external engagement into their strategy and operations. This is seen throughout Porter and Kramer’s idea of creating shared value and Ian Davis’s social contract.

External engagement must be incorporated at every level of the organization and must be a part of the everyday business. The importance of the external world relies on the success of a business’ CSR efforts. So what can you do to integrate these external engagements into your business?

Integrating external considerations

There are a handful of elements that businesses can incorporate into their CSR efforts to create successful external engagements. Some of these actions include defining your contributions, understanding your stakeholders and wholly engaging with them.

Defining your business through what you contribute allows you to build profitable relationships with the external world. This doesn’t mean you need to change the company’s purpose, however, it means to be completely open about that purpose and how your CSR efforts benefit society.

To do: Lay the foundation for external credibility. Use your CSR processes to set internal goals, such as “Our goal is to double sales profits while reducing its environmental impact.” It makes business sense, and it makes philanthropy sense.

Knowing and understanding your stakeholders means more than keeping track of the risks they could pose; it’s about having an in-depth profile of stakeholders while staying engaged with them. Being able to understand your stakeholders allows you to identify problems and opportunities before they arise.

To do: Take the time to research and have personal conversations with stakeholders. From here you can develop an overview of the problems and opportunities and act upon them.

Lastly, external engagement must be radically integrated. Communication is key in this step and requires companies be careful when engaging externally. This step should not be implemented too late. Many companies wait to engage externally when something drastic hits them, which can be fatal to the business.

To do: Start engaging as soon as possible. Establishing trust early on will only help later on when something does happen. Build goodwill, keep the conversation going and understand all who are involved externally.

Integrated external engagement gives your company competitive advantage and improves the effectiveness of CSR programs. The combination of using a CSR software and integrating external engagement strategies will lead companies to corporate philanthropy success.

Image credit: Pexels

Chris O’Reilly is a software executive with 20+ years’ experience in the industry, including positions at FICO and VMware.  Chris specializes in finding solutions that best meets his clients’ strategic and executional needs, and managing growing teams of sales professionals.  

Chris is currently Vice President Client Solutions at CyberGrants, the leading provider of philanthropic and corporate social responsibility software, delivering employee engagement programs and grants management all on one SaaS based platform.  This position allows Chris to combine his professional expertise in software sales, with his personal passion for giving back to the community.  Chris has been an active member of the Knights of Columbus and dedicated youth sports coach in Denver for many years. Chris earned his BBA from the University of Georgia.

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