5 Ways to Identify a Company’s Social Responsibility

5 Ways to Identify a Company’s Social Responsibility was originally published on Vault.

Identifying a company's social responsibility can be a difficult endeavor. Of course, you want to work for a sustainable and profitable company that contributes positively to society and the surrounding environment. But, this can be difficult to find. To that end, we’ve collected our top five things to look for to help you to spot a socially responsible company. 

1. Cause-Related Marketing

A good indicator of a socially responsible company is cause-related marketing. This technique is used by companies to raise awareness about a specific cause that they care about. Whether it's a small business that provides free web conference software/phone conferencing or PayPal, they can work with a charity and associate the products of their business with the cause of the non-profit.

In some cases, companies engage in cause-related marketing by donating all or some of the profits of these products to the charity. Other forms of cause-related marketing that companies often use include becoming a non-profit sponsor, buying a product to give a product scheme, or working in unison to help increase exposure to the cause.

To identify if the company is socially responsible, you must understand why companies carry out cause-related marketing: 

  • To gain new customers. People are more socially conscious now, and a cause-related marketing campaign can help customers or job seekers choose their brand over the competition. Statistics show that 70% of customers are concerned about how brands address social causes and 64% of repeat customers say they interact with brands due to shared values.
  • To increase sales. An example of this was when American Express fundraised a campaign to repair the Statue of Liberty. This then spiked their commercial activity and increased the use of their credit cards.
  • To improve brand image and loyalty. Associating with a cause garners positive publicity. In fact, surveys show that companies that conduct cause-related marketing have a higher perceived quality of product by consumers.
  • To increase employee morale. Employees that work towards a goal they believe in and support are more committed and enthusiastic about their tasks.
  • To raise awareness for the charity. A small non-profit will have the ability to share its cause with the business's large audience. This will increase their exposure and donations.

Cause-related marketing can benefit the company in many ways, but it can also lead to companies conducting inauthentic campaigns purely for PR. So, you must identify whether the company is transparent and whether the campaign is genuine. 

How do you identify an authentic cause-related marketing campaign?

Every company has a mission, but not every company has a cause. A cause is larger than a brand and may require generations of campaigns and collaboration.

A company’s cause should reflect the values of its brand. A great example was the Starbucks “What's Your Name?” LGBT+ campaign, which highlighted the transition of a transgender individual and their experience testing out their new name on their coffee cup. This reflection of their values created a very evocative campaign that resonated with their audience.

An authentic campaign needs to motivate customers to participate. It should actually make you believe you can make a difference and provide you with a feeling of responsibility. A socially responsible company will also show appreciation to consumers who back their campaign.

As a job seeker wanting to identify socially responsible cause-related marketing, you need to ask yourself questions like: 

  • Is this company constantly collaborating with the non-profit organization?
  • Are they creating content to promote it?
  • Are they pushing the campaign on their social media channels?  

Finally, cause-related marketing should be more than just a monetary donation. It should genuinely provide tangible value. Another great example was the Uber “Thank You For Not Riding” campaign that encouraged users not to ride with Uber during the pandemic.

2. Philanthropy

Philanthropy is normally the first thing that comes to mind when people think about a company's social responsibility. Similar to cause-related marketing, some companies donate to charities as it's a great way to raise the profile of their brand and improve company reputation. Statistics show that 70% of millennials are more likely to purchase products from brands that support charitable causes. Supporting a charity is also a great way to elicit more audience engagement.

So, you need to ensure that the company is not simply participating in a “hot topic” cause for publicity. An example of this is a concept called “pinkwashing”, when companies take advantage of LGBT marketing potential, such as the Burger King Pride Whopper, without providing genuine, sufficient support to the community.

Corporate philanthropy doesn't just have to mean donations. It represents the company's commitment to causes and can come in various forms, including:

  • Volunteering. A great way for a company to showcase social responsibility is by investing both money and time. This could mean offering a volunteering time-off policy and encouraging community improvement. What's more, volunteering can also be used as a team bonding or empathy exercise with employees or clients. This will help build positive client relationships and improve team unity. Companies can also offer volunteering grants by donating a specific amount of money to a cause once an employee has completed a certain number of volunteering hours. Walmart gives $250 for every 25 hours of employee volunteering.
  • Donation Matching. A charitable employee should be encouraged, supported, and celebrated. Many socially responsible companies match, double, or even triple the amount of money their employees donate to charity. Microsoft will match up to $15,000 per employee. This strategy empowers employees and promotes employee engagement. Statistics show that engaged employees are over 200% more productive than employees who are not.
  • Nonmonetary Donation. Companies tend to have a wealth of resources that are surplus. After accounting for inventory, they may realize that their company has a plethora of excess socks or older computers. Instead of disposing of them, a socially responsible company will donate them to organizations that will find them a new home.

3. Ethics

Ethical conduct is one of the most important attributes a company should have. Portraying this image of philanthropy and showing solidarity with various causes is all well and good, but carrying out ethical practices is what truly distinguishes a socially responsible company.

Studies have proven that not only are ethical principles the right thing to do morally but that companies committed to ethical conduct outperform businesses that don't prioritize it.

Ethics sometimes change from person to person and business to business. This is why it is important to define an ethical organization. Ethical companies aim to provide a sustainable business that contributes positively to society without harming people or the surrounding environment.

A company's ethical duties should be self-regulated – they should want to carry them out, rather than just being required to. Good ethical conduct means that fairer treatment is not only given to their direct employees and stakeholders but that the company should also provide this treatment to every employee on the supply chain. This can include farmers, factory workers, delivery drivers, etc.

When trying to identify an ethically responsible company, look for:

  • Ethical Products. Ethical products or services shouldn't negatively impact people, animals, or humans. But an ethical product should also be the result of standardizing and ensuring high quality and consistency. Production is also important to consider. Ask yourself:
    • Are they choosing non-toxic, biodegradable materials?
    • Are they ensuring that they have reduced the amount of plastic that they're packaging the products with?
    • Are their employees in a safe, fair, and comfortable working environment? Let's say a company has created the best operator-assisted conference call software; however, they outsource the front-end development of the service. Are the employees abroad being paid a fair wage?
    • Are the company’s products ethically distributed, following Fairtrade policies, reducing transport distances, and reducing their overall company waste?
  • Transparency. Developing and maintaining an honest, trustworthy channel of communication is vital to corporate social responsibility.
  • Doing what they say. A corporate mission should be more than just words, it should be carried out at every level of the company.
  • Making it public. Does the company make its performance numbers, reviews, and diversity meetings available for the public to see?

4. Community Involvement

Companies shouldn’t limit support to well known, national non-profit organizations. They should also give back on a local and community level. Even if you're seeking employment at a smaller business and you're asking yourself “should small businesses work with charities?” the answer is still yes.

Aside from supporting local charities and businesses, there are a variety of creative things a socially responsible business can do to help their community. Here are a few you can look out for:

  • Transporting equipment, food, and diapers can be a good use of a business's transportation capability.
  • Free training or teaching for individual community members such as work experience that provides young adults with transferable skills.
  • Providing gifts to local children during the holidays or any other special event.
  • Many businesses often petition to allow vacant city-owned spaces to be converted into local parks and playgrounds.
  • Visiting the elderly, planting trees, and general fundraising. 

Even bigger companies that are spread among many locations should provide for the community. For example, Google has been supporting a variety of lower-income communities around the world by providing them with educational materials for virtual learning.

5. Company Culture

A company needs to have ethical practices when they are dealing with external factors such as products and media perception. But it is also important to focus on internal practices. Unethical company culture is one where there is a contradiction between words and actions within the business.

A socially responsible company should respect their employees as much as they respect their customers. This means giving them their rights, vacation, benefits, and all necessary accommodations (and when they're working from home, the best online meeting software and home office equipment the company can provide).

Statistics show that:

  • 88% of employees believe that company culture is important.
  • 35% of American job seekers would pass on a role if the company culture wasn't a suitable fit.
  • Employees who dislike their company culture are almost 25% more likely to leave their job.

Here are a few characteristics of a good company culture that is socially responsible:

  • Standardized practices. As an employee, you have worked in various companies and environments where different principles and practices were both accepted and prohibited. This is why a socially responsible company will standardize its company culture ethics. This is usually done via a code of conduct or an ethical practice manual that all employees read, understand, and sign.
  • Trained employees. A company shouldn't just create an ethical code of conduct – they also need to develop a way for employees to discuss and report unethical actions. Employees can sometimes be intimated and fearful of senior employees, so creating a consequence-free environment is crucial. It is the company's responsibility to provide employees with sufficient training to give both senior and junior employees a clear, reprimand-free line of communication to raise concerns with and about each other.
  • Enforce and praise. During the training process, you will have covered the potential consequences of breaking ethical practices. It is then vital for the company to follow this protocol. Upholding these rules prevents an escalation of unethical practices and general team conflict. In the same way that they should diligently prevent unethical conduct, they should also reward ethical practices. Even just acknowledging good behavior reinforces company values.

Corporate social responsibility is not a PR stunt; it is consciously fostered within a company and encompasses a variety of different aspects all as vital as each other. When keeping these values at the center of your job search, it’s important to ensure that the company's cause-related marketing campaigns actually align with their company values and doesn't just hop on a topical bandwagon. Remember: identifying social responsibility is more than just reading an italicized motto underneath a company logo on LinkedIn.

Richard Conn is the Senior Director, Search Marketing for RingCentral, a global leader in unified communications and virtual phone systems. He is passionate about connecting businesses and customers and has experience working with Fortune 500 companies such as Google, Experian, Target, Nordstrom, Kayak, Hilton, and Kia. Richard has written for sites such as VoilaNorbert and Cincopa.