A big change is underway (are we tired of hearing that yet?). It seems like that’s the theme of every blog post we write these days, but we just can’t help ourselves. Like so many other roles and expectations, corporate social responsibility is undergoing a major shift. As Next Stage’s work has expanded, we’re working with more CSR professionals and we’re hearing the same thing from nearly everyone we talk to:

“Since last summer, my focus has shifted heavily to DEI initiatives – our company wants to make sure that every internal voice is heard.” 

“I’m being called into meetings that I’ve never been asked to before now. Leadership is starting to ask how our work can help keep employees more connected.” 

I’m being pulled into more and more projects, in addition to my existing work – employee engagement, community support, equity initiatives. I love it and I’m so excited, but I’m still a team of one.”   

In most companies, corporate social responsibility has traditionally been siloed, tied either to community engagement or a company’s foundation. And while this produced some great community initiatives over the years, we are walking back into drastically different offices than we left – the current headlines make that clear. We’re hearing about labor shortages, the drive for more inclusive and equitable business practices, more emphasis on employee well-being and more. Many of the CSR professionals we know are being called to leadership tables for solutions, as more companies are turning to social good to help address the challenges of the last year.

I believe that the increasing emphasis on social impact as a solution for business problems will become more common as company leadership sees lasting impact, both inside and outside of the company walls. Here are three reasons we believe ‘Chief Impact Officer’ needs a seat at any company’s leadership table:

  1. There is a need to address a growing base of stakeholders.Companies used to be primarily accountable to one audience – their shareholders. While this is still true, a new focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) initiatives is expanding the stakeholder base to include employees and consumers as well. It’s no longer enough for corporate social responsibility to live in a silo. This larger base of stakeholders wants to ensure that it’s present in every aspect of the business and they will continue to demand greater accountability from the companies they work for and patronize.When social impact has a seat at the leadership table, it allows social good to be represented across functions and demonstrates an authentic commitment to stakeholders of all kinds. 
  2. CSR offers high-value, low-cost solutions to big challenges.
    When I developed an embedded social impact model at my previous company, our real ‘aha’ moment came when we realized that social impact could also make real business sense. The apprenticeship program we built not only supported the career ambitions of deserving students – it also helped develop a reliable talent pipeline. Similarly, social impact can help address other expensive and challenging business problems such as engaging employees to reduce turnover or mental health support in the workplace.These solutions often already exist within a company’s walls and are simpler and more cost effective to implement than other, outside solutions. With a seat at the leadership table, CSR professionals are able to more easily collaborate with each business area, uncovering these high-impact opportunities more quickly and easily.

  3. Social Impact is no longer a ‘nice to have’ for companies. It’s a necessity.For many years, companies valued neutrality, fearing that ‘taking sides’ would alienate potential customers. Now, the danger is the opposite – consumers and employees expect their businesses to be active, engaged community members and remaining silent is no longer an option. This doesn’t mean that every company needs to comment on every headline, but it does mean that companies who ignore social issues are in danger of being left behind. As Millenials and Gen Z continue to age into leadership roles with more buying power, this will become increasingly important.Social impact leadership has a unique and informed perspective that is invaluable when navigating these questions. A seat at the leadership table helps a company respond and engage more nimbly, knowledgeably and authentically.The bottom line is this – companies who ignore the need and potential of social impact do so at their own peril. The need is too great, the expectations of stakeholders too clear and the potential for bottom-line impact is too significant to ignore.

Check out our latest  Social Impact for Business service line it’s the firm’s solution-based approach to working with private sector companies to uncover ways to maximize partnerships with nonprofit organizations to realize positive results for both the bottom line and the community.