How to measure corporate social responsibility in a simple and time-efficient way

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Whether you work for a large or small organisation, you will have seen corporate responsibility undergo a radical transformation in recent years. In particular, there has been a seismic shift in expectations of what companies can (and should) do when it comes to community investment.

Arriving alongside this shift are a host of new buzzwords for the corporate social responsibility (CSR) profession: ‘impact measurement’ and ‘impact recording’ are both terms that may have crossed your desk recently. However, the likelihood is that few people in your organisation – even in HR – understand their importance.

Used properly, measurement and recording can help you make the right decisions about which social initiatives to support. Insightful data can help set community investment targets, demonstrate that these are being met and communicate the value of these initiatives across all stakeholder groups.

Despite this, and the renewed focus on CSR within organisations, it often remains an afterthought for time-pressed HR teams, who may question the value of investing precious time in recording. It’s important to change this mentality and understand how measurement can be applied to benefit your organisation and make your life easier.

Upping the ante with better understanding

The increased focus on impact measurement has grown in tandem with the development of the CSR profession itself. Gone are the days of box-ticking exercises and big groups of ‘paint and fix’ volunteers, which, despite the best intentions, may have missed the mark in delivering an impact both for the communities served and internally too.

Companies of all sizes are now delivering a whole range of interesting and effective initiatives, offering genuine change through thoughtful partnerships with charities and communities. This can be attributed in large part to companies listening to their partners in the community and developing an understanding of how to work with them to provide the best support.

Good data creates an engaging story for the organisation, and sets a truthful and transparent tone for the business.

For example, over the past few years we’ve seen broader recognition that a small charity will benefit much more from small numbers of focused volunteers supporting for a full day, rather than a team of 30 turning up for an hour or two. Happily, the big ‘Team Challenge’ is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Beyond supporting good causes externally, these initiatives are proving to be more intrinsic to the very life of a business too, boosting employee engagement and wellbeing, and driving recruitment and retention. At Benefacto, we survey all our volunteers each month. In October, 89% felt they had made a difference and 72% said they had developed their work-related skills.

Why should you spend time recording?

Improved understanding of best practice can’t be achieved without investment in recording your work. Across a business, KPIs are a recognised strategy for improved performance – except in CSR, where they are rarely used.

In this sense, CSR is something of an anomaly. Teams aren’t ‘measuring to manage’, therefore HR teams have no benchmarks to drive better performance or attract more budget.

So how can you justify rolling out measurement strategies within your organisation, or even just within your team? The most compelling answer is that insightful data will help you get more resources.

Demonstrating year-on-year improvement can secure you with more funding, but there is no better way to engage business leaders in the CSR conversation than benchmarking against your peers. For those doing well, it’s an incentive to continue to invest; for stragglers, it’s a shot in the arm.  

Being able to track what a company is giving makes communicating your CSR much easier too. Good data creates an engaging story for the organisation, and sets a truthful and transparent tone for the business.

How to make measurement part of the everyday

Using CSR measurement properly doesn’t have to be cumbersome for HR teams; it can easily become an everyday process. From the outset you should consider the questions you want your data to answer, and choose your data points accordingly.

This process doesn’t need to be overcomplicated. While there has been a trend for attempting to record impact (the social outcomes of your investment) in recent years, this is really not the responsibility of a CSR team. Focus instead on choosing the right charities to support with care. Then record what you’re giving them in terms of time, in-kind and financial donations each year.

Don’t wait until you’re doing a perfect job with your CSR – the whole point of this is to help you hone your programme.

Keeping it simple means you can (and should) start right away. You don’t need to make a huge investment in a comprehensive, bespoke, recording tool. Instead, create simple and consistent processes that make it easy for your colleagues to submit what they’re doing.

We recommend you start recording using just six points: unskilled volunteer hours, skilled volunteer hours, professional volunteer hours, in-kind donations, cash donations and staff fundraising.

Critically, don’t wait until you’re doing a perfect job with your CSR – the whole point of this is to help you hone your programme. In time, you can look to improve the tools available for measurement depending on your own progress and requirements.

Start today

From helping the general public understand which businesses and sectors perform best, to helping businesses increase the strategic importance of their giving internally, the opportunity of using data to make your community investment more effective is there.

The more insight you have, the more powerful your work will be. Start recording your giving today to ensure you’re playing to your strengths and enhancing your impact – both within your organisation and beyond.

About Ben Darlington

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