The Organizational Strategist

July 11, 2010

Corporate Social Responsibility as a Strategic Advantage


Strategy is the alignment of resources and capabilities to win in the market. The more encompassing, pervasive, and thorough the strategy is throughout an organization, the more effective it should be. Generally speaking, the harder you try to make something happen, the more likely it will happen. The same is true with an organization and its devotion to a particular cause. The more the organization tries to enact a given strategy, the more likely it is to happen.

-Strategic CSR-

Corporate Social Responsibility is a great example of a common category of effort that organizations pursue which has great potential for enabling the organization’s strategy, but often falls very short of realizing the full potential. Often times, companies will have a volunteer day, a cause that it endorses or a charitable organization it helps out.

The effects of corporate social responsibility are many fold. Usually this takes the form of putting in some volunteering hours for local clubs or community efforts. What ends up happening is that the employees help out in the community, some positive visibility to the organization comes through, possibly tax benefits are derived, and the organization’s employees feel that they are making a positive impact where they live, which boosts morale. These efforts are good, but not great. Quite easily, they could be great if channeled and reframed to maximize the potential.

How to do this will depend on what is most needed or wanted in an organization. What you want to do is find out where the sweet spot is with the kind of visibility, networking, impact and so forth you want to make, be known for, or receive. That sets the desired outcome and measures of success, which should align well with the overall strategy an organization is pursuing. Additionally, you would want to pair up the kind of output your employees want to do. That sets your current state and desired approach. The support and channeling is where the magic happens to make the link between the organizational strategy and what activities employees would like to do for their corporate social responsibility projects. In this linkage, look for ways of doing the following:

  • Making a lasting impact
  • Helping out in areas that will set up your organization for increased chances of success
  • Finding areas where a small change can have large benefits to your organization and the organization that you are helping out
  • Making the benefits repeatable and having a cumulative effect
  • Finding areas to get the right kind of visibility
  • Being very certain that the way your employees participate is in tune with their own beliefs/desires because their enthusiasm carries through for impact and quality of time spent
  • Researching and understand where your involvement can make the biggest potential feedback
  • Enabling connectivity to the community, brand recognition and relationship building

An example that comes to mind is an idea I proposed when working at a small consulting firm a few years back. The company wanted to grow and was constantly on the lookout for new business analysts and potential consultants. The firm, being personally and professionally invested in the community, was very much in tune with helping out the surrounding organizations and the city overall. What I suggested was that, as a CSR effort, the company partner with schools or professional organizations to put on case study competitions, business plan competitions, and the like while the small consulting firm would help out in a sponsor/volunteer capacity. What this would do is help out the community by finding ways to improve the quality of business plans, critical thinking and other abilities of those involved. The consulting firm employees would be able to directly impact and enhance the innovation and idea incubation through the competition structure while helping improve the individual’s efforts at the same time. Plus, the consulting firm would gain exposure to new ideas, potential candidates and gain insight into perspective client organizations (particularly through real case studies).


The difference between ordinary CSR and CSR that brings strategic advantages to an organization is the method and approach behind the CSR. If CSR is approaches as a means to further enact an organization’s strategy, it has the potential for great benefit. This topic is similar to the author Jim Collins’ thoughts in his book Good to Great where he describes distinction from his classification of level four versus level 5 leadership. The level 5 leaders are the devoted to a cause or effort that is beyond just their own success, fame, and ambition. The topic of Servant Leadership and the Aspen Institute’s teachings also come to mind as they are akin to level 5 leadership. Harness the innate potential, core beliefs, and spirit of giving for your organization and surrounding community or stakeholders to find strategic advantages that are yours to be realized.



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by David Connor, Simone Veldema. Simone Veldema said: RT @Juliengoy #CSR as a Strategic Advantage — interesting. back to the core of helping people/potential clients […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Corporate Social Responsibility as a Strategic Advantage « The Organizational Strategist -- — July 12, 2010 @ 12:08 am

  2. To me the most important determinant of how successful CSR becomes as a company strategy is the extent to which an organization was successful in capturing the local flavor. For example, an organization that sponsors an annual bicycle rally in a city, where only a certain small segment of the populace engages in cyling activities, most likely would fail to touch a chord. Another important criteria which you touched base upon as well, is that the success of CSR depends on how persistent an organization is regarding its CSR efforts. The message that needs to get out is that you are indeed serious about your CSR efforts.

    Comment by Ideas for Organizations — July 12, 2010 @ 2:43 am

    • Hi there Sid,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! You bring up a good point about the fit with the surrounding environment and community. If it isn’t a good fit, it won’t have as big of success as other, more applicable efforts may.

      Like greenwashing, CSR can appear to be simply a means to appease a group of people and can appear ingenuine. Having a strong commmitment to the CSR efforts makes a lot of sense if it aligns with the organizational strategy. The approach should be very genuine there as it would coincide with organizational hopes and aspriations.

      Comment by Whit — July 12, 2010 @ 8:36 am

  3. Great article. Too often is CSR relegated to the position of marketing or HR gimmick and fails to be implemented as a properly holistic strategy.

    Where employee volunteering is concerned, have you seen the platform? would love it if you could give it a critique, it seems to me that it ticks all the above boxes but then again, I might be biased…

    Comment by Ben@leap — July 12, 2010 @ 8:49 am

    • Hi Ben,

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      I had not seen or heard of Leap CR before. Thanks for sharing it. From watching to the video, it appears as though it would be helpful for providing information both before as set up where choices are being made on how to proceed and afterwards for tracking to examine success measures. What I imagine would also be of benefit would be to know what other organizations who are participating, what external events might be going on and on-going history/recommendations. In the last option, it could be done like Netflix recommendations where if your organization likes a lot of trail cleanup, it might be recommended next time a trail cleanup comes up or a similar opportunity, like cleaning up around a nearby community’s riverbed area. Publishing reports automatically could be a service provided to LeapCR customers too. There are more ideas I could come up with and would be happy to chat more if you’re interested Ben.

      Comment by Whit — July 12, 2010 @ 11:49 am

  4. Great article; I too agree that the proactive and strategic use of CSR can move an organization along the good to great continuum – for all vested stakeholders (e.g. shareholders, employees, local non-profits).

    For example, from a talent management perspective, volunteer programs are popular for strengthening the affective employer/employee connection. However, cross-sector partnerships offer greater returns on invested CSR efforts. Specifically, the partnerships offer customized and cost effective skills development opportunities which translate into increased state of organizational readiness.

    In essence, as I discuss at my blogsite:, beyond building a favourable public image, the utility of CSR initiatives can be expanded to address a broader array of strategic priorities (e.g. talent management) which impact favourable shareholder returns.
    Dave Nanderam PhD

    Comment by Dave Nanderam — July 12, 2010 @ 12:13 pm

    • Hi Dave,

      Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing. I like what I read on your comment. What are some examples that would be good cross-sector partnerships? Take a small consulting company, what would you suggest they aim for with their partnerships?

      Comment by Whit — July 12, 2010 @ 12:43 pm

  5. I would like to exchange links with your site
    Is this possible?

    Comment by duifang — July 31, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

    • Thanks duifang! I’m open to seeing where/how link exchanging (I assume this means posting a link to each other’s site) would work. What link(s) would be most suitable? I want to include content that matches with the content of this site and I’m happy to investigate to see if there’s a good fit.

      Comment by Whit — August 3, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

  6. This really highlights some of the most important features of CSR. While my company has been working hard to make an impact out of a sense of mindfulness, it often surprises our clients when we inform them that it is profitable as well. In fact, it’s so profitable we’ve based our whole marketing agency around this triple-bottom-line :!

    Comment by eliel — December 22, 2016 @ 8:01 am

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