Managing the Right Impact for CSR Programs

Last week, when I met one of India’s largest business groups to discuss a public relations program, the leading question was how to build higher impact for the company’s corporate social responsibility program.

Admittedly, CSR now enters the discussion on public relations planning in India more frequently than it did five years ago. Yet what struck me as different in this conversation was the emphasis on increasing impact – not just media impressions, which is often what PR managers focus on when planning CSR programs.

Can we plan the CSR program to build a real positive impact on business interests? Will CSR activities help us to mitigate reputation risks?

Beyond the obvious feel-good rub-off on the corporate brand, these are larger questions that CSR and PR managers need to answer.

For some critics, NGOs in particular, CSR is a veil to hide selfish business interests, just the latest trick for corporations to grab media attention.

Yet at the heart of these questions lies a big reality – for corporations to invest in CSR in a sustainable way, there needs to be a true connection to furthering a healthy business existence.

PR managers need to have a sharp focus when planning CSR programs – analyzing business interests, social interests and the role of the business in the communities in which they operate. And built into the program, there should be specific objectives that measure the true impact of the socially responsible work.

In a country with more than half a billion people without adequate availability of healthcare, economic opportunities, educational facilities and infrastructure, along with larger issues like gender inequality, regional disparities and corruption, there exists a kaleidoscope of opportunities for corporations to build innovative CSR programs – programs that positively contribute to society and also deliver impact that garners support from its stakeholders.