2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: A Clear Business Case for CSR

t the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in New York City we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café” sessions with our client attendees.
Jun 25, 2013 7:00 AM ET

At the 2013 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in New York City we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café”sessions with our client attendees. Stay tuned as we share the major themes and knowledge shared during these discussions.

Guest post by Denise Howell, VolunteerMatch CFO

Every spring, VolunteerMatch hosts our annual Client Summit. We invite our community of the best and brightest in CSR to share their experiences, successes and best practices in engaging their employees and the public in social good and sustainability as part of their companies’ performances.

A big part of the experience is benefiting from the wisdom of our keynote speakers, and this year’s was no exception. We were very fortunate to have Jeffrey Hollender, founder and former CEO of Seventh Generation, social entrepreneur and pioneer in corporate responsibility. His passion and commitment are palpable and life-affirming, even exhilarating.

Are we there yet?

We are all used to corporate leaders who can talk a good game – selling the slick image. Mr. Hollender does more than talk about the benefits of corporate social responsibility – he has the numbers to back it up. As a CFO, this really speaks to me and I know it speaks to decision makers in companies across the country. It is deeply inspiring to actually get to see that the social good your company does makes a very big difference in the world.

Mr. Hollender fully acknowledges that the products Seventh Generation makes may not yet be good enough – just less bad than other products out there on the market – for environmental sustainability. It is refreshing, and entirely unexpected, to encounter a CEO that will publicly acknowledge the less positive aspects of his or her company’s products and services.

But Mr. Hollender knows that this is how you get better and bring out the best in your employees and your services. You don’t get better by saying you’re already there – that position doesn’t foster innovation, creativity and passion.

To have a CEO admit that we have to be the same on the inside as we are on the outside and that we have a long way to go – what we are doing is still not great, but it is better – is not negative. Rather, it is inspiring and encourages us to challenge ourselves toward greater success.

By having a company culture that supports what Mr. Hollender calls “radical transparency,” you bring out the best in your employees and you build and keep the public trust and loyalty to your business.

Social good comes at the expense of profitability – right? Wrong!

Whether buying shares in a publicly held company or donating assets to a nonprofit, investors care about financial impact as well as social return on investment. Those of us engaged in socially responsible investing in its many forms have successfully debunked the previously held belief that socially responsible investing may be good for the soul, but sacrifices investment returns.

There is NOT a trade-off between responsible corporate citizenship – doing the right thing – and maximizing your company’s shareholder value. You can not only have both, you can exceed the performance of your industry peers by placing a priority on the social good! Mr. Hollender pointed to solidly researched studies from the Harvard Business Review and Forbes to show that the bottom line is actually stronger for companies that land in the “100 Best Places to Work” lists and those that focus on sustainability. These companies consistently outperform their industry peers from a shareholder value, investment and customer loyalty perspective.

In addition, Mr. Hollender referred to a Credit Suisse study which analyzed the value of companies over a period of several years and discovered that boards with at least one woman outperformed companies with all-male boards by a whopping 26 percent! Clearly, diversity enhances profitability, too.

Mr. Hollender’s presentation demonstrated that it is more important than ever to be fully engaged in sustainability and social good to maximize your business success in every respect, including the bottom line. In recent years, the public has had a very poor image of business in general – greed, excessive salaries, treating their employees badly, acting immorally even if their actions are legal, not paying their fair share of taxes…

Meanwhile, as high as 75 percent of young professionals beginning their careers place a very high priority on a company’s values and environmental sustainability in making a decision about where they want to work. Employers all want to recruit and obtain the best talent, so we all need to make sure our values are in line with these priorities. We no longer live in a world that simply values doing social good. Our society expects it – and expects us to be able to measure it.

What it’s ultimately all about:

Lastly, Mr. Hollender established very clearly that investing in social good is what makes us happy. I came away from Jeffrey Hollender’s keynote more committed and inspired, and I know he held the rest of the audience, too. What can matter to us more than knowing that what we do every day, and the efforts we make individually and collectively, make a difference? It is certainlywhat we are all about at VolunteerMatch.

When framing a situation in terms of how it can help us individually vs. how it can help others, hands down, people choose the one that helps others. It is the heart and soul of who we are. And that’s as life-affirming as it gets!

Robert Rosenthal
+1 (415) 241-6865