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Effectively adopting CSR for your business requires developing a strategy for its implementation. The spectrum of possible CSR initiatives available to a company is mind boggling. You can start with a barebones approach — say, replacing disposable (and environmentally unfriendly) Styrofoam coffee cups with washable and infinitely reusable porcelain coffee mugs — or you can go all the way to a multiphase international CSR strategy that touches every part of your organization and has a direct and significant impact on the world.

Kellie McElhaney is the faculty director of the Center for Responsible Business at the Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley. In her book Just Good Business: The Strategic Guide to Aligning Corporate Social Responsibility and Brand (Berrett Koehler), Kellie describes seven rules to consider when developing an effective CSR strategy:

  • Know thyself. Your CSR strategy must be authentic and must ring true for your organization. The best way to ensure that this is the case is to closely match it to your company’s mission, vision, and values. Employees, customers, and others will know when it’s not authentic, and your CSR strategy won’t have the desired effect.

  • Get a good fit. The goals you select for your CSR strategy must fit your company and its products and services. For example, if your business is a boutique selling women’s clothing, then actively supporting breast cancer research is a good fit.

  • Be consistent. Be sure that everyone in your organization knows what your CSR strategy and goals are and that everyone can express them consistently to one another — and to the general public. Your CSR efforts are multiplied when everyone in your company has a clear understanding of his or her role and is completely aligned with the program.

  • Simplify. In developing and implementing a CSR strategy, simpler is usually better. Organic yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm’s mantra is simple: “Healthy food, healthy people, healthy planet.” Anyone can understand what the company is committed to accomplishing, and customers feel tremendous brand loyalty because they want to be a part of what Stonyfield is doing.

  • Work from the inside out. Your CSR strategy isn’t worth the paper it’s written on if you haven’t engaged your employees in the process of developing and implementing it. Instead of forcing a CSR strategy on your employees, invite their active participation in creating it and then rolling it out. You’ll get better results and your employees will be pleased that you thought highly enough about them to involve them in the process.

  • Know your customer. When developing a CSR strategy, it’s better to address the immediate needs of your customers before you try to solve all the problems of the world. These customer needs often boil down to the most basic of human needs: safety, love and belonging, self‐esteem, and self‐actualization. If you can address these customer needs, you’ll have a customer for life.

  • Tell your story. When you have your CSR strategy in place, don’t be afraid to publicize your efforts to be socially responsible along with your successes. Again, many people are attracted to companies that operate in a socially responsible way. If you don’t get out the word about your programs, you’ll lose this powerful advantage. So tell your story — as often as you can — to your employees and to the general public. Use company newsletters and brochures, your website, and online social media such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Above all, don’t spend hours, days, or weeks laboring over a CSR strategy, only to file it away and forget all about it. Integrate your strategy into your everyday business operations. In this way, you’ll gain the full benefit of corporate social responsibility — a benefit that can give you a distinct competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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