Every year, at the end of January, Canadian telecommunications company Bell promotes its annual mental health awareness campaign “Let’s Talk.” Since its inception 10 years ago, Bell has contributed more than $100 million to various research and community initiatives across the country.
There’s no doubt that the impact Bell has made on increasing awareness around mental health in Canada is far reaching and extensive. However, Bell has also seen its fair share of criticism around its business practices, which tends to see a resurgence each year this annual campaign is launched.
Now, don’t get us wrong – we are not here to criticize Bell. We consider many Bell employees good friends and partners who help us get our work done, and done well. However, this annual campaign inspired some thoughts for when it comes to designing and implementing corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategies.
You may have to live with some tension. More often than not, corporations who engage in CSR initiatives should be prepared to live with certain tension between their business practices and their CSR initiatives – and no corporation can truly be free of criticism. Apple may be doing well to promote and integrate its environmental initiatives, but it still lives in the shadow of how the metals used in their products are sourced. Be prepared to have tough conversations, and stay focussed on the social good.
Be aligned – inside and out. It’s imperative that your internal culture, your people and values, align with your CSR initiatives. Your initiatives should be a direct reflection of who you are, and who you aspire to be as a company. If you make investments in anti-racism initiatives, for example, give serious thought to ensuring your own HR policies, procedures and practices reflect this CSR positioning.
Don’t be tone deaf. Stay tuned to the conversation and the timing of your initiative in the context of current affairs. Right at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, an airline sent out a pre-scheduled email marketing campaign with the subject line “never a better time to fly”… needless to say, this wasn’t received well. Remember to keep an eye on pre-scheduled promotions and ensure they’re still relevant and appropriate. Be nimble and responsive to help ensure the conversation taking place around your initiative is constructive. And of course measure periodically throughout the campaign’s lifecycle. Too much negative sentiment could tank your reputation.
Give from the heart, for the people. While corporate social responsibility initiatives certainly have the potential to improve reputation, and perhaps inspire people to purchase from you, remember, people see through bullsh*t.
Recently, we supported a project that will have a positive impact for Indigenous communities across Western Canada. In our conversations, it became very clear to us that the catalyst for this initiative was a pure desire to make a difference – and not just a decision to improve the bottom line.
The reality is, the keen eye can see whether you’re being authentic or not. It’s important to give thought to how your CSR strategy comes to life. Is it born out of a desire to give from the heart, for the people? Or is this something you want to do to make yourself look good? Give consideration to your intentions.
If you want to pick our brains about corporate social responsibility strategies, please reach out. We would be honoured to work with you to help make a difference in the communities you serve.