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The biggest CSR myths debunked

by Chris Bruker
February 10, 2022 - Reading time: 14min
The biggest CSR myths debunked

To tackle this important topic in our ever-changing society, we met with Jerome Tennille. Jerome is consultant advisor in sustainability and social impact, so of course, the questions we had for him were easy for him to address. With strong roots in community and country service - he did actually served in the military, it comes with no surprises that he felt strongly connected to society and willing to do something to back to the military community and, on a broader scale, his country. Quickly, he discovered his passion for his new role as volunteer coordinator at a national nonprofit organization. With all the inspiring missions that come with a nonprofit organization, one must also mention this duty-driven mindset that motivates them to get involved and do even more, always more.

We could go on and go on and summarize what Jerome shared with us but instead, we'll let you jump right in the discussion:

Jerome: I think especially here in the United States, there is a disconnect between many companies and how they seek to serve and whether or not they're addressing the deep-rooted critical issues that communities face. And I knew that I could not change that from the outside as a nonprofit professional. And so for me, I wanted to be a part of that change, but to be a part of that change within the corporate, you know, within the corporate for-profit space. And I think for me, what I brought was a different lens and a different perspective. What I had to do was to learn the language and also learn what the values, the priorities, and all the objectives were working for a company because they're slightly different. I would say that the job that I did in the nonprofit sector was identical to the work that I do in corporate responsibility. But it's like you're navigating a different labyrinth.

Optimy: And does it happen often that people in us move from nonprofit to CSR? 

Jerome: It's happening more often now, but I would say traditionally that wasn't always the case. And I would say that that shift probably happened or started happening about five to 10 years ago.

Optimy: What do you think are the issues and where do myths and CSR start. Is the corporate responsibility space very small, is very close-knit. ?

Jerome: The opportunities are far and few in between. They don't. They don't, they don't. You know you don't see job postings for corporate responsibility or sustainability jobs very often. And I think traditionally when companies have sought to hire corporate responsibility professionals, they've hired people with traditional business acumen. They were they would hire generally internally, people who had a long tenure with the companies in human resources, marketing, public affairs, communications, traditional business roles. And I think over the years, as companies have become more sophisticated and advanced and more knowledgeable about serving the community's needs, I think a lot of companies have transitioned to looking for a more diverse skillset that exists oftentimes. Is born in the community from people with backgrounds in education, from people who have traditional backgrounds, in nonprofit partnership, building, sustainability, volunteer engagement, and I think over that as we get through 2020 and we start getting into 2021 and beyond, we're going to see more companies hire subject matter experts who are subject matter experts and serving the community first and then figuring out how that wraps into the business functions. Because I think more companies, you know, they're going from what used to be considered philanthropy or community relations or community service, which is, in my opinion, it's a very antiquated way to think about serving the community's needs. And that's one end of the spectrum. But as companies are becoming more sophisticated, they're going to what is now considered corporate citizenship or corporate responsibility. To social impact, which is a more progressive way of thinking about serving the community, and then to even for ESG integration, which is a more complicated way and a more advanced than it's a more. It has a deeper impact when you get full ESG integration into a company. 

Optimy: But of course, this is not the only CSR that still needs to be debunked?

Jerome: As an individual donor or as somebody who might be a little bit more well-off and might support a community foundation or have their community foundation. We all give rights, especially in our communities. We all give through formal institutions. But because we give in our own lives, whether as volunteers or as individual donors, it doesn't necessarily mean that we have the skillset and the know-how to form partnerships that have positive outcomes that we have measured, tracked, collected, and reported. And I think that that's through the again, it's a myth that is created that anybody can do CSR because we all give in our personal life as amateurs, right? Like, Oh, it's easy. I volunteered before. I know how to do this for a major corporation or a business. And I think as a result of that, some people are. And, you know, unfortunately, thrust into a role that they might not be very well equipped to manage.

Optimy: What are the importance of CSR for recruitment?

Jerome: Social expectations on what companies do and what they don't do. And I think that plays out in many different forms. For example, here in America, people are using their purchase power to purchase goods and services from companies that they believe align with their social, you know, their social values or moral convictions, their character. And even sometimes their political beliefs. As strange as that is, all these things are starting to bleed together. And if a company finds itself on the wrong side of societal expectations, they risk their financial revenue, right? I'm going to use a couple of different examples. You know, here in America, we have problems with gun violence, and in the wake of several or a string of mass shootings, we have seen a major stance by society to hold companies accountable for the types of firearms and ammunition that they sell in their stores. And we have seen companies change their policies on what they sell, how much of it they sell. Some companies completely saying we will no longer sell this. And that was a result of the public outcry and society saying we demand change. We've also seen just in recent weeks, I should say we've seen some tech companies and social media hosts come under fire. And what I mean by that is, you know, some of these tech platforms allowing what is being considered hate speech, and major corporations are now pulling their ads from some of these tech companies as a result. And so companies that don't find themselves on the right side of societal demands will take the financial hit. And I would also say that younger generation, as they enter the workforce and as they seek to be contributing members to society, whether by working at companies or purchasing services from these, these companies.

Optimy: Through these companies also sends a reminder to small and medium businesses and talks about the importance of having them join the CSR team?


Jerome: Not only do companies say that they stand for something, but they also prove it, and they only can prove it if they do the hard work, and then they measure their progress towards publicly transparent goals. And then once they've achieved those goals or in some cases down a tree, don't achieve them. Are transparent about it by, you know, through those communication mechanisms, like a press release or having a social impact report annually or being able to work with an NGO or nonprofit organization to have a public announcement about the things that they've achieved. And so there is a direct, you know, there is a direct connection between responsible business and how viable a business will be long term based on the actions that they take in being socially and environmentally responsible. And the last. The thing that I would say is, I think the idea of corporate responsibility or corporate social responsibility, corporate citizenship, whatever you want to call it, it is directly transferable to mid-sized and small businesses. 

Optimy: Indeed, including small and medium businesses is important. Not only, but also have a broader approach to CSR itself. What are your thoughts?

Jerome: And to put it in perspective, here in America, about 99 percent of all the businesses that we have, ninety-nine percent are considered small. The medium-sized businesses medium-sized business would be those that you know, potentially have, you know, I think the number is something like five hundred and above and small businesses being considered having something like 500 employees and below. And that's like ninety-nine percent of all the businesses that we have here. And so as we even think about the idea of corporate responsibility, perhaps as professionals or as an industry in the social impact space, we need to start adopting new language that reflects more inclusivity for the small businesses, especially if we're going to move the needle on some of these social and environmental issues. The last thing I'm going to say that is, you know, when we say corporate responsibility, what we're talking about is the one percent and the one percent is not enough to change all of these, these deep critical issues and move the needle. So we need the other 99 percent to be on board and the 99 percent need to know that responsible business is for them as well.

Optimy: With so much experience in social good, and when talking about the importance of volunteering, can you give us an analytical view?

Jerome: I think it's a part of the conversation and what else. What I mean by that is all these things are interconnected. One of the things that I didn't share before is, you know, I have a background in sustainability academically. I went to grad school and studied sustainability and leadership, and one of the things that become apparent is all these different things the environmental, social and governance issues. They are all interconnected. And so we're and that's why when we talk about full ESG integration, you can't just address social and ignore environmental and governance. You can't just address environmental and ignore social and governance and address governance and then ignore the social and the environmental aspect of it. I'm going to use one example. Some of the work that I've done in corporate responsibility was very specific to food insecurity. You can't have a conversation about food and security without also having a conversation about food waste. So you're talking about two different things. You're talking about food insecurity and you know, the I guess what is it called food, food justice or you can't talk about that without also talking about some of the the environmental aspects of it that go into sustainability and and eliminating food waste at the same time. Here in America, I think 40 percent of all the food that we produce goes to waste. And so, you know, that by itself is an injustice. And so all these different things, they they they they overlap. And I think to effectively rid our society of a lot of these issues, you have to be addressing all of them and you have to understand the interdependencies and the connections between all of them because you're you're, you know, by just addressing one or two, you're only addressing thirty three to sixty six percent of it.

Optimy: What are your thought on online/virtual volunteering?

Jerome: I think over the last nine years, you know, I say that volunteer engagement, it exists on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum, you have very traditional and episodic forms of volunteering that might be one person giving one hour and doing something that is very transactional and very tangible, creating a care package, stuffing an envelope or planting a tree or something, right? But then as you go across the spectrum, you start getting into other forms of volunteer engagement and you start to get into forms of volunteer engagement, like mentorship. You get into other other forms, like skills based volunteering and pro bono. And then you also get into other forums like we're seeing now with the expansion of virtual volunteerism. And, you know, I think there are there are a couple of things that work against each other. There's society's expectations on what they want to do when it comes to volunteering. 

And then there is the needs that exists in the community, and I think that's probably been one of the biggest. The biggest shifts that I've seen is that I think more people are becoming more aware of. The most needed forms of volunteering that have a direct impact on the community. Now that's not to say that some people still have unrealistic expectations. I think we're seeing that play out right here right now. As you know, we've been social distancing for months. People are looking for remote and virtual volunteer opportunities. But they're also seeking those virtual and remote opportunities from organizations that simply cannot offer that because of their service delivery model or the way that they serve their community are going to use one example. Food banks. Food banks are very similar to a grocery store. They have their supply chain and where they get the food and where they get, you know, where they get their material. Sometimes it's from farms, sometimes it's from restaurants and sometimes it's from grocery stores. They also get individual donations.

Those donations often go to a warehouse or fulfillment center, where volunteers physically have to be on hand to look at the product, stored it appropriately, bag it, packaged it and then physically deliver it to somebody. And for those types of organizations that have that direct engagement, virtual and remote volunteering isn't as much of a primary option as I think people are seeking, right? So there's like this weird balance of trying to manage the expectations of people while also taking that energy because you don't want to lose those folks, but you want to manage those those those those would be volunteers and then direct or energy into opportunities that are the most critically needed. And I think we're, you know, we're seeing a shift of people recognizing that. But I think it's hard because I think. You know, especially here in Western culture, we're very much tied to our our social and cultural values. I'm going to use I'm going to use the fall and winter time frame as an example. But I think the silver lining of COVID 19 and the pandemic is that it's it's heightened people's education and awareness that virtual volunteerism exists and that it's an actual viable means of serving others, right? 

While it does have limitations and we're while it does have its limitations, I don't see it going away. I don't see it replacing in-person volunteer engagement because I think what we had talked about before is, in some regards, it just can't. But what I've seen is that virtual volunteering is allowing more inclusivity for people who would generally not show up in person. There have been a string of conferences and summits and seminars over the last two months where I've seen record attendance because people don't have to travel, they don't, you know, that's an expense that they no longer have. They don't have to buy a flight. They don't have to, you know, save money for food, for lodging, for a rental car. 

In some cases, public transportation, once they get there. And that's freeing up capital for them to spend elsewhere, while also being able to engage virtually and to get, you know, almost identical or similar content. So. While it has its limitations and while also being creating more avenues for inclusion, I would say what we'll likely see in 2021 and beyond are more hybrids. Right? So I think what we'll see is not a full adoption of virtual, but maybe some organizations that are 100 percent virtual now will scale back and incorporate it into their toolkit. They'll still have in-person opportunities where it's necessary and makes sense, but then they'll augment that or supplement it with those virtual opportunities. And I think that is that's a good thing. I think that's something that we should champion because I think up until this point, virtual volunteering or working remotely or being, you know, more virtually distant from your place of work or from the action that you're doing. It's not gotten to do respect the now it's getting the respect. 

And I think now organizations are more likely to incorporate it into their nonprofit toolkit.

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