In 2017, Americans opened our wallets to help victims of hurricanes, fires, and other disasters and to support our most heartfelt causes. And we’re probably not finished. This year’s #givingTuesday on November 28 will likely surpass 2016’s record-breaking haul of $168 million in charitable donations and thousands of hours donated to those in need.
Our philanthropy may also be due to public sentiment in the wake of the 2016 election. According to Charity Navigator, a “heightened sense of political and economic instability” has moved many Americans to give to groups and causes that reflect their values. Charity Navigator also cites the boom in mobile fundraising and an emphasis on impact measurement among trends that affect our charitable impulses.
Social responsibility and philanthropy are perhaps nowhere felt more keenly than among millennials. The millennial generation became more engaged in philanthropic causes in 2017 than in years prior, according to the Millennial Impact Report. Studies show that while most Americans say they will buy a product because a company advocates for an issue they care about, millennials are more likely to actively research the positions a company espouses and the extent to which they support social causes (CSR). Some 56% of millennials say they exclude brand which do not operate sustainably, and a whopping 81% expect companies they favor to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship. What’s more, 92.1% of those surveyed thinks that working for a socially responsible company is important.
Enlightened employers have gotten the message. Many are adopting new CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programs or tweaking existing commitments for greater relevance to rising generations of customers and partners. Here are some ways for organizations to develop smart CSR campaigns that appeal to millennials as well as their elders.
1. Make It Authentic
Sounds obvious, but authenticity means more than just sincerity of purpose, and skeptical millennials are quick to spot a shallow commitment or a CSR program adopted for PR purposes. Is the beneficiary strategic to the brand identity? Is it relevant? Does it flow from real brand and employee values? Many companies divide their largesse among several different beneficiaries, which can work for mega-corporations but tends to dilute the impact for non-giants. And others make the mistake of committing to a cause because the CEO has a personal connection. It may or may not be the best fit for the organization and its customers.
2. Focus on the CSR Program’s Impact.
An arresting story is important, but, these days, we’re saturated with information and demands on our time and attention. As a category, social philanthropy is moving to an approach that quantifies not only cash and volunteer hours logged but their impact. Charity Navigator predicts charitable organizations will invest more time and energy in showing relevant data “to prove their accountability, transparency, and overall health.” So, too, should the businesses that seek to partner with or support social-impact programs. This approach dovetails with the aversion to risk of many millennials and their inherent skepticism of commercial interests.
3. Be Consistent
A typical CSR campaign, even if generously funded, may not break through in its first year or season. Smart CSR managers will create a program that can be scaled over five years, and that, above all, will serve as a consistent demonstration of the corporate commitment to a cause or mission. The trick to keeping a program fresh is to vary the tactics, like tapping a new media spokesperson, increasing the fundraising goals from year to year, or varying the activities earmarked for support. But the best campaigns are consistent and drive the brand association over time.
4. Drive Engagement Year-round
The best campaigns use social and digital communications to keep loyalists engaged, report progress, and share success stories at a human level. Social media, digital video, email, and PR that generates earned media all play a role here.
5. Keep Your CSR Program Simple
Not just for employees and stakeholders, but for the end user―usually the consumer. A complicated giving program that asks too much of participants is one that may be short-lived. If in doubt, start local and expand as time and resources allow. And consider campaigns that don’t constantly ask for donations from cause-fatigued consumers. True engagement can be achieved through simple communications as well as commitments of time spent in volunteer hours, evangelizing with friends and peers, and social media support.
6. Make It Interdisciplinary within the Organization
The best CSR programs are crafted with input and involvement from the company’s stakeholders, particularly employees. And it shouldn’t reside in the PR or marketing department. A true CSR commitment should offer executions inside the company, led by HR, participation opportunities for distributors and partners, and support from every corporate department. Corporate support and individual participation by employees have grown as philanthropy has become not just a PR and marketing function but a strategic business priority.