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Five CSR Trends to Watch in 2014

January 6, 2014

Early last year, I predicted that the following would be the major trends in Corporate Social Responsibility in 2013:

  • Growing importance of skills-based (or pro bono) volunteering as an additional way of fostering employee engagement in communities and social issues.
  • Growing recognition of employees as key stakeholders in sustainability efforts of companies.
  • Growing involvement of corporate boards of directors in corporate social responsibility activities and programs.
  • Growing acceptance of "shared value creation" as part of a company's social responsibility.
  • More looking forward, less looking back.

Clearly 2013 was the year of employee engagement. More and more companies added skills-based or pro bono volunteering to their programs, and the Points of Light A Billion and Change initiative reported that more than 500 companies (including American Express) had pledged over $2 billion worth of skills-based volunteer service. Employees continued to gain importance as stewards of the environment for companies, and boards of directors increasingly provided oversight into CSR activities and programs – especially for publicly traded companies.

Looking ahead is never easy, and this year is no exception. Scanning the literature yields very similar predictions to previous years, and it's hard to say that anything new is on the horizon. But, here are my suggestions for five trends to watch in 2014:

  • Growing use of social media for a cause. According to Crane and Matten's Sustainable Business Forum, social media has passed from being just for young people to being for people of all ages. 57 percent of people 50 to 64 years old engage in social media and 38 percent of those over 65 are engaged in at least one social media. Every nonprofit organization and cause on the planet seems to have Facebook and Twitter accounts, and many now operate Tumblr and Pinterest accounts as well. We're being bombarded with information about thousands of causes each year (from both nonprofits and corporations), so the ability to tell stories emotionally and effectively will become more and more important in this cluttered environment.
  • Growing importance of thinking globally but acting locally. Although global companies will need to continue to think globally, the "act locally" part of that well-worn equation will take on increasing importance (some are calling this phenomenon "glocal"). The success of corporate initiatives like Small Business Saturday (founded by American Express) and grassroots initiatives like Giving Tuesday emphasize local and neighborhood causes, organizations and concerns, and local officials from governors to mayors to city managers are getting into the act. Corporations will increasingly be expected to operate according to global standards and best practices (e.g., the UN Global Compact), but also be sensitive to local concerns and priorities.
  • Growing emergence of big data to aid with decisions and disclosures. While the phenomenon of big data has yet to move from tech companies and financial institutions to nonprofit organizations (except in a few rare instances like The Foundation Center), the widespread availability of applications and tools – and cloud computing – to help businesses manage huge amounts of data in making decisions will begin to spill over into the nonprofit sector and start to influence the way that nonprofits operate and the way that companies support them. Lucy Bernholz of Stanford University's Digital Civil Society Lab predicts that big data has the potential to revolutionize the world of philanthropy – for both donors and charities alike.
  • Growing demand for disclosure. Driven by newly invigorated government agencies and increasingly savvy supply chain managers and business partners, corporations will be expected to disclose more and more information about the way they are governed and operate, and so-called ESG (environmental, social, governance) data disclosures will grow in complexity and real-time availability. Once a year reports will be a thing of the past as companies will be expected to disclose information to their key stakeholders on a regular basis.
  • Growing skepticism that CSR really makes a difference. Some writers are predicting the "end of CSR" as it further integrates into the core business of a company, and others are predicting "CSR fatigue" or a weariness that all this well-intentioned effort doesn't really prevent companies from behaving badly. A recent article in Time Magazine (December 3, 2013) cites a study by two professors who assert that a company's social responsibility is measurably related to subsequent corporate irresponsibility and that this relationship is stronger for CEOs who behave or speak publicly in a way that enhances their reputation for moral behavior.

While I think that there may be some examples of companies or CEOs who don't walk the talk, I seriously doubt whether anyone wants to go back to an era of rampant corporate irresponsibility or CEO obliviousness to being good citizens. Likewise, I believe that the demand for corporate transparency and disclosure on both the global and local scale, as well as the need of stakeholders for someone to be "in charge" of gathering and disseminating this information, will cause companies to concentrate people and resources on this corporate social responsibility function for many years to come.

What do you think will be the trends in CSR this year? We would love to hear from you. Please share your comments by clicking here. Alternatively, you can follow me on Twitter at @timmcclimon and comment there. Thanks for reading and sharing this blog the past two years.

P.S. Did you know that cloud computing is becoming so prevalent that the social media upstart Snapchat relies entirely on Google's servers to process its 4000 photo messages a second? And, that IBM plans to have more than 240,000 servers positioned around the globe by 2015?


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