If your company's philanthropy efforts seem like an afterthought -- get a request, pick a charity, write a check, done -- consider a more proactive approach in 2019. A well-executed strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan is both good for the community and good for business. Here are five ways to sharpen your CSR strategy in 2019:
1. Narrow Your Focus:With studies showing consumers prefer brands that support charitable causes, more firms are becoming interested in developing a plan. You can't give time and resources to everyone and everything. So how do you decide? At Baird & Warner, the largest family-owned real estate company in Chicagoland, we created a dedicated philanthropic arm, The Good Will Network, to give back to the communities that have helped make us successful. I oversee the Good Will Network's efforts and work with a team to plan our outreach.
2. Find a Natural Fit:If you can't decide who or what to support, try picking charities that align with the industry your business is in. Baird & Warner has helped thousands of people buy a home, so it was natural for us to want to help others who need housing assistance. For example, for the past two years our $24K of Solid Good campaign has supported five different organizations each with a $24,000 grant -- $120,000 total -- to provide shelter and services to Chicago-area people at risk.
3. Involve Employees and Customer Base:Adopt a big tent grass-roots strategy, including as many as possible in the selection process. This not only raises a brand's profile; it helps energize employee engagement. At Baird & Warner, we ask our employees and agents to nominate nonprofit groups deserving of grants to provide housing-related services, particularly for women and children. Through a creative process for one of our programs, we identify 10 finalists and invite the public to vote on the Baird & Warner website, with the top five vote-getters receiving a grant. We're not only empowering our employees and the public, we're also letting a broader audience know what we do and what we're working on.
4. Make Giving Part of Brand:A civic-minded business from the time of its founding in 1855, Baird & Warner is passionate about philanthropy, and giving is part of our fabric. But it's about more than money -- combining financial support with volunteer activities further strengthens communities, so we also have a volunteer time off policy, enabling every employee to spend two days a year volunteering for a nonprofit of their choice. Through our Good Will Network, we've donated more than $2.4 million plus thousands of volunteer hours to Chicagoland nonprofits since 2002.
5. Now That You've Created a Plan, Share Your Story:Now that your charitable efforts are underway, tell the public and your clients what you're working on and keep the momentum going. This can be accomplished either through public relations efforts to let local media know, or via posts on your website and social media channels. A well executed corporate social responsibility effort is also a good recruitment tool, especially with millennials. A 2016 study by Fortune magazine found that two-thirds of respondents between the ages of 18 and 34 were at least somewhat more likely to want to work for a company that gives to charity than for a company that does not. Incoming brokers tell us they've joined Baird & Warner because they want to be affiliated with a company that shares their values. Building and investing in that deep bench of talent is how Baird & Warner has remained a shining business success story for five generations and counting, and has earned recognition as a top workplace seven years in a row. If we can share one thing about a so-called ROI on giving back, it's that leading by doing good is good for business.
• Jennifer Alter Warden is chief operating officer and executive vice president of Baird & Warner