Does CEO Engagement Lead to CSR Impact?

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CECP recently held their 8th Annual Board of Boards CEO Conference, an event that brings together Fortune 500 CEOs to share their experiences around corporate societal engagement. While the event always attracts executive leaders particularly engaged in corporate social responsibility, this year that level of involvement – and the impact it can have on CSR programs – was the focus. Speakers including Xerox’s Ursula Burns, Mosaic’s James T. Prokopanko and IBM’s Ginni Rometty addressed the theme “Call to Action: Engaged Leadership, Unprecedented Impact.”

In our work helping companies develop and implement CSR campaigns, we have often found that getting executive buy-in can be one of the biggest obstacles to success. Without their support – and the resources that often accompany that support – it can be that much more difficult to encourage employees to get involved in CSR initiatives.

As CECP’s event shows first hand, an engaged CEO can have an incredible impact on employee participation, making CSR a vital part of the corporate culture. For the CEO’s that presented at the conference, their level of commitment was apparent even in the way they describe their roles. Rometty counts among her central tasks “inspiring employees at all levels to get involved.” Burns sees herself as the “face of community engagement” at Xerox.

This sentiment seems to be one shared by many of the CECP attendees. A poll taken at the event identified the key actions that distinguished ‘Engaged CEOs.’ Among the top two: reinforcing the value of a company’s community engagement and inspiring employees at all levels to get involved.

Of course, any CSR professional would be thrilled to have the support of their CEO, especially at this level. But it’s worth noting that an executive’s involvement alone is not enough to ensure success. Effective communication, directed to both internal and external audiences, is critical to maximizing a program’s impact – on the company’s reputation, on employee morale and on the community organizations with which the company partners. A well thought-out branding and communications strategy, backed by the support of an engaged CEO, can align CSR activities with the corporate brand in a way that is both authentic and meaningful, and transform all volunteer, philanthropic and sustainability initiatives into culture-building activities.

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