Businesses often invest in creating and supporting their brand, as well as in monitoring the perceptions held by their customers, employees and the general public. A company’s social responsibility efforts typically factor heavily into these perceptions. Corporate social responsibility is a commitment to do more than just serve the needs and expectations of customers and shareholders. It can also mean going beyond business basics and serving a social need. Through corporate social responsibility programs, including responsible business practices, philanthropy and volunteer efforts, businesses can benefit society while boosting their brand.

Socially Responsible Companies Must First Meet Business Responsibilities

In general, businesses have a hierarchy of responsibilities to meet, ranging from the basic (making a profit) to the benevolent (benefiting society). Here are some examples:

  • Economic Responsibilities – A business exists to make a profit for shareholders. If it fails to do so, it likely won’t be able to pay its employees, taxes and other obligations. A corporate social responsibility program (CSR program) cannot be implemented until a business is profitable.
  • Legal Responsibilities – Following the law is the foundation of corporate responsibility. A company cannot benefit society if it does not adhere to labor and tax laws or applicable industry regulations.
  • Ethical Responsibilities – Once a company is profitable and meets its legal responsibilities, it can move up the ladder to ethical responsibilities, which might include paying higher wages, offering employees better benefits, avoiding trade with unscrupulous companies or providing jobs to those who would otherwise have difficulty finding work.
  • Philanthropic Responsibilities – As a company meets its economic, legal and ethical responsibilities, it can consider taking on philanthropic responsibilities. Corporate philanthropy ranges in size and scope, and can include everything from donating time to a local charity to building a children’s hospital.

More and more companies see corporate social responsibility as going beyond giving money to organizations in need.

Types of Corporate Social Responsibility Programs

Many non-profit and charitable organizations can benefit from corporate social responsibility programs. Local and national groups such as food banks, shelters and the Red Cross receive donations of cash and volunteer labor from businesses all across the country. This direct giving is one type of CSR program.

Many companies can also choose to take a long-term, strategic look at CSR. They actually create products or provide services that help fill a societal need. Examples include:

  • A company that specializes in job training for disabled adults
  • A business that aims to find alternative uses for used goods, to keep them out of landfills
  • A group that brings investors into a declining area to revitalize it and create green technology jobs

Some firms have a strong foundation of corporate social responsibility, which governs everything from the products and services they produce to the hours they dedicate to volunteer work.