This past fall, Global Impact attended many conferences, including Brands Taking Stands, Concordia, CEO Connection and the U.S. Chamber Corporate Citizenship Conference. Drawing from all sectors – corporate, nonprofit and government – conferences like these lay the groundwork for what we define as social impact. The presentations and speakers tell a powerful story that set the tone for the year ahead. Here are some major takeaways for corporations on a journey for social impact.

Redefining the purpose of a corporation.

In 2019, the Business Roundtable issued a statement dispelling shareholder value as the primary focus of a business. Instead, they reinforced a corporation’s commitment to their employees and the communities in which they operate. This statement was signed by 181 CEOs and sets a new standard for how we look at corporate responsibility. (It’s about time!) For many companies, it is more evident that there is a need to challenge the status quo.

One size doesn’t fit all.

While there were many great case studies shared at the conferences, I found the roadmap to be challenging for any company looking to embark on the journey for social impact. While this may be frustrating, it was evident in each example that designing social impact efforts around the curves and edges of your company is critical to success. Being able to learn and pivot can be the difference of success and failure. Achieving social impact requires an integration across multiple departments and leadership.

The power is in your people.

When companies decide to take a stand, the core reasoning comes down to their people. Whether it is the employees of the company, the consumer or an investor, there is a very human core to why and when companies advance their impact beyond pure profit. It is about defining purpose, not profit. So if the initial step is motivated by people, what does the rest of the journey look like for a corporation?

Listen first (you have two ears and one mouth for a reason).
Whether we listen in response to an event, as a part of a strategic process or through building it into governance, the first step companies will need to take is to determine WHY and HOW they will listen to their people. Here are a few real life examples of different listening approaches.

  • IN RESPONSE: United Airlines presented at both Brands Taking Stands and the U.S. Chamber Conference, addressing their very public corporate culture issues related to customer service. In their solution, they not only listened but also invested in and empowered their people by giving them the tools, training and flexibility to respond to their consumers and communicate their needs internally.
  • STRATEGIC PROCESS: Verizon, now under new leadership, also shared a bit of their journey to roll out a new strategy and program. They understand that right now, they are in a listening and learning phase and shared about their own company listening tour. They asked their people, “What’s most important to you?” and “Where should we be making an impact as a company?” This example shows the value of engaging employees and also acknowledges that employees are the direct connection to your customers.
  • GOVERNANCE: In the nonprofit space, we see a strong trend to placing the client or end recipient of their work at the center of their decision-making and governance. Pact, a Global Impact charity partner, recently announced the development of a stakeholder council, established by their board of directors. This council will have a role in setting priorities, approaches and accountability for results.

Don’t forget your humans.
Embarking on a journey to make programs more human centered requires getting to know your people — the people that work for you and the people you serve.

  • EMPLOYEES: It was the people of your organization who got you into this; make sure they are still a part of it. Every. Step. Of. The. Way. It’s so challenging, but so important to make the powerful decision to engage and bring employees and leadership along this journey.
  • CONSUMERS: Co-creation is central to our approach with clients and is central to the success of the programs have worked on. This iterative process provides both flexibility and a reliance on the people involved to achieve the desired outcome.

Embrace the future

As companies embark on this journey for social impact, I have a few predications on what is to come – all of which center on greater inclusion and empowerment. There is no longer room for siloing of any aspects of social impact; alignment is key to achieving success. This journey will require a clear strategy, engagement of the right internal leaders, commitment of resources and leadership at the highest levels. It will also require a greater diversity of philanthropic goals, asking customers to give and publically acknowledging the role a business plays in all aspects – both positive and negative – of social impact.

I am proud to work for an organization that is following these trends and actively working to increase the footprint of social change by empowering corporations. With nonprofit and for-profit clients, we are prepared to help them navigate each other’s needs, develop a human-centered approach to design and implement their programs. With the skills and resources to develop programs for employees around giving and volunteerism, our work around employee engagement and CSR is at the root of the integration between citizenship and corporate philanthropy.

Read The journey to social impact: Find balance in the tensions, part 2 of the social impact journey series …