CSR: Could you be doing it wrong?

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BY JOANNE VAN DER WALT

Often, CSR programmes are implemented through ad hoc, unrelated activities, whose positive effects are short-lived. Once-off, annual events are seen as an extension of marketing activities to show that the business has ticked the ‘good corporate citizen’ box but this approach does not have a lasting impact.

CSR needs to be reframed as a contributor to profitability – and that means treating it like any other business strategy: with a plan that outlines what success looks like, measures progress and pivots to meet changing stakeholder needs. The result is more effective CSR initiatives that have a sustained, measurable impact on society.

Paradigm shift 

Here are a few ways to change your CSR approach:

Know your stakeholders. Your beneficiaries, colleagues, partners, customers and prospects should be at the core of your CSR initiatives because success depends on their support and involvement.

Consider how they will be impacted by every business decision and involve them in each stage of the process. Your CSR strategy should not only align with your business’ values but also your stakeholders’ values, especially since these are increasingly influencing buying decisions.


Use your unique expertise and skills. Businesses can play a significant role in alleviating SA’s problems if every one of them contributed a portion of their specific expertise and knowledge to the cause. Rather than just making monetary donations or trying to make a difference in an area that falls outside of your core business, use what you already know to make an impact.

For example, at Sage, we create products that lessen the admin burden on business owners so they have more time to focus on their core business. By donating our accounting and payroll products to NPOs, like we recently did for the Thope Foundation, we can increase their efficiency – and therefore, their impact. And by getting our colleagues to volunteer their time and share their expertise, we’re making use of the assets we already have to make a difference in society. 

Know your purpose. All CSR initiatives should be purpose-driven if they are to have any impact. Be deliberate about your mission and try to align it with a global cause. A commitment to educating underprivileged children, for example, aligns with the Sustainable Development Goal to achieve inclusive and quality education for all.

Formalise your strategy. CSR initiatives need to be integrated into every aspect of the business and, as with any other business strategy, should have objectives, deliverables and be measurable. Continuous assessment of the impact and progress of your CSR initiatives is vital to effectively address issues and to make changes where necessary.

Communicate and engage. The core purpose of any CSR initiative is to build strong relationships with your stakeholders, who ultimately care about results. Communicate regularly and transparently with executive board members to highlight successes and how your initiatives are impacting profit and/or public perception. Consult with beneficiaries to understand their challenges and how you can help. Clearly communicate your strategy to your team and outline their role in addressing societal issues. Ultimately, your CSR initiatives should never separate stakeholder engagement from everyday business.

If any business is serious about impacting the country’s development and economic growth, they need to prioritise and strategise their CSR contributions.

The best way to do that is by being interactive (engaging all stakeholders), proactive (aligning projects with business strategy and stakeholder needs and values) and reactive (communicating successes and making changes where necessary). This can be achieved through consistency and focusing efforts on a single, long-term vision, rather than on ad hoc projects.         

Writer is Sage Foundation programme manager for Africa