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Corporate Social Responsibility as an Expression of Your Brand

From time to time, we ask clients who are experts in Modern Marketing to share wisdom from their unique perspective. This week, Amy Ariel from Avista explains how she built a corporate social responsibility program that perfectly represents the Avista brand.

When the caterpillar asks Alice, “Who are you?” he will not be satisfied if all she can tell him is her name. Names matter. Whether our personal names or the names of our organizations and businesses. Names represent who and what we are. However, what matters most is who and what is being represented. A corporate social responsibility (CSR) program can be a fabulous asset in expressing your brand.

Not too fast, though. Before a CSR program can express your brand, you must first know what your brand is. Establish a brand platform and then use it to shape your charitable efforts. Assuming you’ve taken the necessary steps to know and be able to articulate who you are, what you do, and why you do it, you can then develop a CSR program that helps your brand live in the world.

If the work you do as a company is genuine, important, and high quality, then to express your brand, your CSR program must be intentional and integral to the work you do. It cannot simply be an add-on to get some positive PR. If your CSR program is too casual, disconnected from your work, a low priority, not communicated to your team and stakeholders, it will detract from your brand.

As I’ve written about before, CSR programs are good for business. They have become a way for companies to build trust with their clients, partners, and employees. Employee engagement can improve job performance and employee loyalty, in part, by highlighting shared values. Most importantly, CSR programs are good for the world and the people we serve.

So, how do you do it? How do you develop a CSR program that appropriately expresses what you want your brand to represent?

Consider Your Tagline

Try to find ways to develop a volunteer or philanthropic program around the concepts in your tagline. Avista’s tagline is: Strategic Technology Solutions. In our case, we want to be strategic. We want to be able to make a measurable impact, so we want to work with organizations that really need what we can offer. When possible, we want to apply our expertise in technology. By developing relationships with key volunteer coordinators within our non-profit partners, we can respond to specific needs we have the skills, time, and resources to meet.

Revisit Your Vision

Avista’s primary goal is to be a go-to trusted, collaborative advisor for our clients. That vision applies to our relationships with our non-profit partners as well. When they have an opportunity for volunteering or a specific need, we want them to come to us. That means that, at Avista, we allocate employee time to maintaining relationships with our selected charitable organizations beyond our quarterly volunteering assignments.

Weigh Your Brand Values and Voice

Really take some time with these concepts and think about what kinds of organizations and volunteer engagements will match well with the values and voice your company is seeking to express.

Put It in Action

After you’ve considered all these aspects of your brand, it’s time to build them into your CSR program. But, what does this look like, exactly? For Avista, it means developing long-term relationships with local organizations conceptually related to our work. We seek out organizations that know, and are deeply engaged with, the demographics they serve. Organizations that develop long-term relationships with their participants much like we develop long-term relationships and connections with our clients. Our team typically volunteers three to four hours during the paid work day four times a year.

Avista’s Program

Annually, we volunteer with English language learners at Neighborhood House as reading buddies. We join classes at Northeast College Prep, playing cooperative games and doing art activities or helping staff field trips. We partner with Ujamaa Place and provide a career development computer skills class and mock interviews. We do yard work at Women’s Advocates and then come inside to make a craft project with the residents. We also participate in their school supply drive.

The holiday gifts Avista sends our clients include a donation, made in their honor, to one of our four partner organizations. In 2015, that gift went to Northeast College Prep to co-sponsor a kindergarten field trip to the Minnesota Zoo. In 2016, we will be co-sponsoring bathrobes and slippers for the women ringing in the New Year at Women’s Advocates—a domestic violence shelter in Saint Paul, Minn.

We have chosen two larger organizations for team fundraisers: Be the Match—a global leader in bone marrow transplantation—and the MS Society—which works to improve the quality of life for people living with MS. Much like the work we do within our industry of information technology, both of these organizations seek to make stronger connections to make life better for people and communities.

You can see we’ve given a lot of consideration to our charitable and community efforts and how they relate to our company as a whole. This has allowed us to express our brand from a different platform, but also gives our team something they can rally behind. As your CSR program unfolds, you’ll undoubtedly find the proper due diligence can help your organization achieve the same objectives.

Amy Ariel

Whether working with teens, non-profits, or at Avista where she is the corporate programming manager, Amy Ariel is committed to helping others develop a solid sense of identity, and express that identity through the way they as individuals live their lives or the way their organizations are run. With a degree in history from Grinnell College, a J.D. from Hamline Law School, and a background in outdoor, experiential education and Jewish youth work, Amy lives and works in Saint Paul, Minn. Her middle-grade chapter book Friends Forever won the Gelett Burgess award for Religion in 2012.