The social evolution of consumers brought about by the ubiquitous spread of social media has had a consequence likely not anticipated by many in the nonprofit or business communities: an unprecedented increase in Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR.  CSR is nothing new – corporations and businesses of all types and sizes have aligned themselves with nonprofits through cause-marketing and other co-branding initiatives for decades.  Yet the advent and spread of social media communications, which has effectively broken down the barriers to interaction between consumers and corporate entities, has ushered in an era of openness and transparency that few could have foreseen.

As a result, corporations have an opportunity to build loyalty, trust and affinity with their clients and prospects and many have seized the initiative by aligning themselves with causes that are complementary to their business strategies and compelling to their constituents.  The 2013 Cone Communications/Echo Global Research Study indicates that economic development is the top cause consumers most want corporate entities to address.  The environment, poverty and hunger, human rights, education, health and disease and water are also important to consumers. 

What does this mean for nonprofits? As the business community jumps on the CSR bandwagon, savvy nonprofits who can demonstrate their social impact and value have a huge opportunity.  Nonprofits who find the right fit with the right business and potentially public partners will benefit through:

  • Funding, likely sustained over a period of years or even decades
  • Business expertise
  • New ideas and innovations
  • Volunteers
  • Advocates
  • Enhanced brand and reputation

Nonprofits can position themselves for success with CSR partnerships by demonstrating their commitment to transparency and effectiveness, charting a theory of change that aligns or resonates with business, identifying among their constituents and especially major supporters any connections with possible business partners, and approaching business partners with compelling evidence of an engaged and active community of supporters.

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