Five Social Impact Trends That Inspire Us

By Ebony Frelix, SVP, Philanthropy & Engagement, Salesforce.org, and Nasi Jazayeri, EVP/GM, Salesforce.org Philanthropy Cloud
Feb 1, 2018 7:25 AM ET
Blog

For purpose-driven companies, these are interesting times. We have always believed that our mission at Salesforce is to improve the state of the world. In fact, studies show that purpose is a number one driver behind business success. Brand perception, consumer loyalty, employee retention and stakeholder optimism are all tied to how a company acts on its purpose.

In our trust-starved world, this is even more important. According to Edelman’s recent 2018 Trust Barometer, trust is at an all-time low with 52 percent of the global general population saying traditional institutions of power are not trustworthy. But what was most interesting is that 64 percent of respondents said CEOs should take the lead on changing the world –  not governments or nonprofits.

This onus on companies to evolve from a contributor of social impact to a leader in social impact is a critical theme in the five trends that most inspire us in 2018.

Trend #1: Transparency is so in

Openness is not just a must-have, it is expected by every stakeholder. Every aspect of transparency from being your true self at work, to openly reporting progress against your impact goals are all expected of the new corporate citizen.

This trend is evident from the food we eat to the clothes we wear. Just look at companies like Hershey which uses a SourceMap, an interactive map showing consumers manufacturing facilities and the origins of key ingredients. Or Levi’s where Waterless jeans are not just defining the supply-chain but the global brand. And consumers are loving it – 7 out of 10 are willing to pay more for a product that promises total transparency and 1 in 2 would be loyal to a company for life if it provided complete transparency.

Trend #2: Making time to do good: an everyday expectation

Did you know that a majority of students about to enter the workforce say a job where they can “make an impact” is important for their happiness? The workforce in 2020 will be redefining what workplace volunteerism looks like. Companies like Salesforce andJohnson & Johnson are already committed to seven paid volunteer days off per year for each employee. These may seem like philanthropic platitudes but they are part of everyday business for trend-setting corporations.

We admire the current and next generation of citizen philanthropists –  97 percent of millennials want to apply their specific work skills to volunteering. At Salesforce, employees have donated more than 2.3M volunteer hours and we are connecting every employee to skills-based volunteering opportunities. This makes business sense – we know companies with strong CSR programs can improve employee retention by as much as 50 percent when compared to others. And Deloitte found that 89 percent of working Americans believe companies that offer volunteer opportunities have a better work environment than those who don’t.

Trend #3: Leaders who inspire = brands that inspire

CEOs have taken a stand on polarizing issues more in the last five years than at any other time in history. Purpose is about defining a company’s position on issues like climate change, immigration, LGBTQ rights, workforce diversity and gender parity. While that purpose may start with a leader, it will echo in the halls of your workplace and can penetrate communities, partners, networks, supply chains and your global brand. Take CEO Laurence Fink’s recent call to action to Blackrock’s investors – urging and inspiring major businesses they invest in to do more to change the world. Howard Schultz has always been a strong environmental activist, reflected in Starbucks’ water and packaging decisions, and Paul Polman is a global development champion, with Unilever leading the way on addressing the Sustainable Development Goals. Our own CEO, Marc Benioff, inspired many by taking on LGBTQ rights for colleagues in Indiana.

Trend #4: Purpose is profit

Purpose often seems counterintuitive to profit but in reality, it’s the key. Strong brands that choose the path of collective good find they outperform in shareholder value. Over a 15 year period, corporate responsibility translates to on average $1.28 billion in additional shareholder wealth. Brands that espouse human values over business as usual are rising in popularity and value. For two years now, REI has closed its stores on Black Friday and paid their employees to spend time outside instead, encouraging others to do the same. In that first year, REI added 1 million new members (its largest growth ever), with an estimated 2.7 million customers pledging to spend the day outside.

Inspiring moves like this have led to long-term business gains simply by understanding that brand translates beyond product.

Trend #5: Impact beyond grant-making

Businesses thrive on ROI, but measuring social good impact is still largely uncharted territory. How can we report beyond grant dollars, sustainability reports, and volunteer time? For example, Puma measured the company’s financial impact on the environment –€145M. Fortune 500 firms currently spend more than $15 billion a year on CSR activities and that number will continue to rise but when will we begin to talk about the impact of those investments? Microsoft decided in 2016 to tie executive bonuses to meeting diversity goals. How will this policy change the pathways to tech careers for often marginalized, minority youth? We have a responsibility now to go well beyond reporting how much we invest to talk about what our investment are helping and hoping to solve.

Companies like ours are hungry for the right tools to measure the good we do. What we need is a new and simplified impact platform. At Salesforce, we are leveraging our innovating technology to work with communities creating a dynamic network where companies and their employees can find information quickly, connect with causes and engage with communities, all while measuring their social impact. This is where CSR is headed in the next five years –  where community goals meet company goals, we can all commit to change the world around us.

To truly lead in social impact in the future, we need ultimate transparency, built-in volunteer engagement,  bold corporate leadership, more purpose for profit,  and global impact numbers that speak for themselves. Buckle up 2018. This is going to be a good year for doing good.