Corporate social responsibility has evolved significantly over the past several decades – from corporations simply writing checks to nonprofits, to a multitude of practices and activities that have become highly integrated into business practices. As we close out 2014, here are Silicon Valley Community Foundation’s predictions for what’s ahead for CSR in the coming year:
CSR programs are going global, but will have more flexibility for local adaptation
It used to be common for a company to develop a signature program in headquarters and roll it out across global offices. The program was to be a neat package with everything “fitting into key pillars” with shared programs, guidelines and metrics across borders. However, at SVCF we are noticing a departure from such rigid frameworks. For instance, STEM education may not be an appropriate CSR strategy in a country where a basic need such as access to clean water is more pressing. Similarly, rethinking employee engagement programs with local context in mind is important for international success. For example, a U.S. $50 minimum requirement for a matching gift may work for U.S. employees, but could be a barrier to participation by employees in other countries.
The lines between for-profit and nonprofit will continue to blur
With the emergence of the sharing economy, B Corps and the burgeoning of social enterprises, the lines between for-profits and nonprofits will continue to blur. Increasingly, entrepreneurs are developing products and services for the sole purpose of societal benefit. Many companies are partnering with these for-profit enterprises and other “nontraditional” partners, whereas historically companies have partnered nearly exclusively with nonprofits. LinkedIn, for example, is even contributing grants directly to employees with transformative ideas.
A growing proportion of start-ups will adopt CSR at very early stages
While the Salesforce.com 1/1/1 model is not new in the CSR space, this year it is seeing increased popularity within the start-up community. With the launch of initiatives including Pledge 1% and the Founder’s Pledge, it is evident there is an appetite among startups to showcase a commitment to social responsibility at their earliest stages of operation. Founders and executives at these nascent companies view employee engagement programs – including volunteer opportunities – as a key leverage point for retaining talent, particularly in markets with fierce “talent wars.”
Materiality will rise to the front and center of CSR reporting
Investors and B2B companies increasingly consider published CSR reports a business requirement. And with legislation such as Singapore Exchange’s required sustainability reporting and the EU’s requirement for non-financial reporting, we predict required CSR reporting will become even more prevalent. We also believe more CSR reports will hone in on highlighting issues of material importance to the business (a.k.a. materiality). This concept of materiality is defined by the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as those “issues which reflect the organization’s significant economic, environmental and social impacts or substantively influence the assessments and decisions of stakeholder”. This concept is core to the GRI’s latest G4 framework. This focus within reporting will likely challenge CSR professionals to enhance their understanding of how their programs link to the business.
Nonprofits and companies will leverage big data for social good
“Big data” has been a buzzword around Silicon Valley for the past few years. And we’re starting to see it trickling into the nonprofit sector and into CSR. Companies are employing their technical savvy to amplify their social good efforts using data. We saw the trend emerge as early as 2013, for instance, when IBM Watsons partnered with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to enable evidence-based diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients. Additionally, companies such as Palantir are utilizing their expertise in big data for “philanthropy engineering” and tackling tough issues such as human trafficking. Nonprofits are not adopting this approach as quickly – likely to due to resource constraints. That’s why we’ll be closely following the work of organizations like DataKind and Silk.co that bridge the gap between big data and nonprofits.