I’m part of a consulting team working on a project with a large technology company that’s going through a restructuring of its corporate citizenship activities. The company has chosen the areas of interest where it will focus its CSR, and has asked us to give it a picture of the competitive landscape in each of those areas: essentially, who is doing what and how does our company stack up? In order to do that, of course, we need to have a good sense of what the company itself is doing.

And therein lies a large challenge: in many cases, the company does not know.

It is a question of internal communication. The company is a large multinational organization, and while it does have a dedicated CSR office, because the business units in individual countries can operate independently, often times the information related to community engagement activities (cash spend, volunteer hours donated, numbers and names of local partners, etc.) may not make it back to the home office. As a consequence, the overall amounts being expended on corporate citizenship efforts are not being tracked.

But even more insidious than the funds not being tracked is the fact that the activities themselves, especially their results, are not known. This prevents the company from doing several things:

1) Sharing best practices: It may be that the staff of one of its satellite offices has found a very interesting way to engage with the local community while significantly enhancing the company’s brand reputation (and its value, by extension). This could be an activity that could be rolled out on a larger scale.

2) Determining appropriate brand fit: It could be that some of these activities at the local level are not consistent with those of other divisions or with the broader corporate citizenship goals, to the extent that they are known. A communication gap affects messages going in either direction—to or from.

3) Partner identification: It may be that local partners have other satellites or partners that may benefit from wider collaboration with the company. By not knowing of such activities, opportunities for greater involvement, which could potentially add more value to all parties, cannot be pursued.

4) Measuring impact: To the extent that CSR activities are tracked, their results can be known, especially their impact on the company’s bottom line. There could be low-risk, high-reward CSR activities happening right now at the company that could increase shareholder value on the larger level. Conversely, some of these activities could be conducted more efficiently, similarly affecting shareholder value.

The gap in communication in this case seems to be a natural extension of the way that the company is organized, and perhaps how CSR is viewed by senior leadership. By fixing these communication problems, not only will the leadership have a better idea of what is happening in their organization, they will likely be able to understand more fully the power of CSR activities as drivers of business value.

—Sean Simplicio

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