By: Mollye Rhea
Each year, we make social impact predictions for the year ahead based on our cause partnership expertise. 2022 brought more big shifts in cause partnerships. Let’s take a look back at how well our predictions held up.
Leadership will be required to show more empathy and compassion
Update: This is a trend where we were spot on as employees became a key audience for nonprofit and corporate partnerships. Our new data revealed that employees jumped to the top of the audiences considered when partnering with a nonprofit, and 97% of respondents agreed that being a purpose-driven company improves employee morale. Due to the struggle to retain and attract employees, we saw leadership quickly pivot to better understand and empathize with their employees’ needs and interests. Many engaged their employees in social impact initiatives through increasing employee resource groups (ERGs), allowing workers more say in causes supported and providing a wider variety of hybrid volunteer opportunities.
As the “Great Resignation” goes on, we’ll see more companies deeply consider their work culture and seek to cultivate a more human-centric environment in order to attract and retain top talent.
According to recent research by IBM, 72% of prospective employees are more likely to apply for a job at an organization they consider to be socially responsible. Companies can demonstrate social responsibility by:
- Tapping into Employee Resource Groups (ERG) groups
- Surveying employees about causes they care about
- Providing employee volunteer and giving opportunities
With 96% of employees saying volunteering is essential to them, employers who tap into this passion will have an edge over those who don’t.
“…empathy is not just about listening or being nice. It is about understanding and insight. It is about forming connections and nurturing relationships. It is appreciating the relevant trends in both business and society. And what we have found at Citi is that empathy is foundational to how we deliver for our clients and how we attract and retain talent. Empathy enables the excellence we strive for every day. It helps create our edge.”
̶ Jane Fraser, President, Citigroup
Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (JEDI) will drive corporate social impact investments
Update: This trend also held true throughout the year. CSR leaders reported that JEDI was the second highest cause focus area when their companies selected a nonprofit partner. We also saw increased demand from consumers for companies to take action to improve civil rights, racial discrimination and social justice. This shift in corporate focus and increased stakeholder pressure led to more partnerships focused on diverse people and communities. A few examples of the incredible partnerships that showcased commitment to JEDI this year are:
The Reading Is Fundamental and Amazon campaign to help improve literacy in underserved and underrepresented communities.
A multi-year partnership between Macy’s and Big Brothers Big Sisters of America aimed to create brighter futures through bold representation for all.
The Habitat for Humanity BuildBetter partnership with Whirlpool launched to help underserved homeowners save on monthly utility bills using energy-efficient appliances.
JEDI is not a partnership trend, but a continued expectation woven into partnership programs. These examples and many others showcase the sustained progress that can be achieved in JEDI when companies and nonprofits work toward shared partnership goals.
We foresee a continued acceleration of corporate JEDI initiatives. We expect this to play out internally and externally through thoughtfully selected nonprofit partnerships. Last year, 64% of CSR leaders considered racial justice a new long-term priority and 13% of CSR teams added staff with DEI expertise.
Undoubtedly, a key learning from the last two years in the JEDI space is to engage those who know their communities best. One strategy for getting this right is to engage nonprofits who have had history with the communities and people companies are looking to help. Another strategy is to tap ERGs with a JEDI focus to lead these efforts.
Depending on your impact area, engaging people who look like and identify most with the communities you want to serve will help ensure an authentic approach and prevent missteps.
Ultimately, stakeholders want to see real action, data and results toward doing better on racial equity. This is especially true among Gen Zers and Millennials. Both employees and consumers within these generations want companies to be truthful about the impact they have. Don’t let the pursuit of perfection keep you from progress: 81% of Gen Zers say a company doesn’t have to be perfect when talking about social justice issues, but it should be open and honest.
“…we took a really hard look at where we are from a diversity and inclusion standpoint…the ugly truth is we aren’t where we need to be…I love to think about the opportunities that come out of the things we’ve learned in the last year and how we catapult forward into the future. I fundamentally believe that a diverse organization is going to outperform a homogenous one every single day.”
̶ Chip Bergh, CEO, Levi Strauss & Co.
Environmental Social and Governance (ESG) and CSR integration will be the norm
Update: We may have jumped ahead too quickly on this trend. ESG and CSR are still often siloed departments in many organizations. Unfortunately, with economic tumult in the final quarter of the year, ESG did not become as mainstream as expected. Many companies are now shying away from ESG and CSR as budgets tighten. An annual report by TEAM LEWIS analyzes 300 companies from the Forbes Global 2000 list and shows there is evidence of a pull-back on CSR projects while ESG programs are being downshifted. Researchers found that top companies have less information listed on their website or mention the use of renewable energy resources and diversity and inclusion efforts less. They report the percentage has decreased from 65% in 2021 to 56% this year. Companies will still be held accountable for their ESG goals by stakeholders, but these efforts will continue to be deprioritized as the economy tightens in the months ahead.
We’re often asked what the “S” in “ESG” even means. A Harvard Business Review article dubs this the “middle child predicament” and calls out the need for companies to better define the social component of environmental sustainability to its stakeholders.
This is especially true of the connection between climate justice and social equity in Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) communities who are often exposed to the worst impacts of human and natural disasters.
A full 82% of U.S. CEOs have shifted their focus toward the social component of their ESG programs since the pandemic started. Companies will be held accountable for their actions to mitigate climate change.
There will be more cross-over than ever before between environmental risk mitigation teams and CSR teams in the quest to reduce environmental impact. Integration of these two traditionally siloed functions will open up extensive partnership opportunities for nonprofits.
“Companies need to know their vulnerabilities and strengths in the ESG space. They can look at themselves from the outside and calibrate: What is my environmental footprint? What is my social footprint? What is my governance footprint? Then consider what your vulnerabilities are within those brackets, as well as your strengths. Where can you step up and really make a difference? If you don’t know your vulnerability, the critics will point it out as soon as you start speaking about ESG or purpose externally and criticize you for it, so you had better get there first.”
̶ Bruce Simpson, CEO, Stephen A. Schwarzman Foundation