Marcy Twete

5 things NOT to say to a CSR professional

In previous posts, I’ve spoken about the large number of individuals I meet interested in CSR. Unfortunately, many of these individuals do not understand this field or what it entails. To be frank, I may not have known these things before joining the field, either. Infusing a bit of humor in my blog today, here are some importan things not to say to someone who works in CSR.

#1:

You must have so many beautiful gowns with all the galas you attend.

This statement is the kiss of death for any CSR professional. There is nothing more offensive than boiling my job down to going to fancy dinners. I (and anyone else in this field) worked hard to get here. We have all overcome many barriers. Attending events is not why we are here. Sure, many CSR professionals attend our fair share of events. But if that is what you think life will be, run away right now.

CSR is, for my money, the best job in the world. I routinely pinch myself because I love coming to work so much. But any job in this field is hard work. Every day, we fight for what we believe in and what we know is right for our company and for the world. Whether internal or external, someone is always building a wall to keep others out. CSR professionals must continually build the ladders to scale these walls. We are the ones who force issues that will make our companies better. Our work is challenging and difficult. Oh yeah, and worth it. It’s not all Rent the Runway and free champagne. So if you’re getting into it for that reason, you’ll never succeed.

#2:
Giving away money must be so much fun!

Early in my time as a CSR professional, my boss told me spending our budget would be a challenge. I laughed out loud. I said to him, “You realize this is what nonprofit professionals think we sit in our offices and say, right?” I thought, sarcastically, “Oh, my, how will I ever spend this money.” Wrong! Being responsible for community partnerships is not easy. We are the people who ensure our companies invest dollars responsibly. When a company provides a grant or commits to a project, we ensure the project’s partners follow through on their end of the deal. Is the work that nonprofit is doing sound? Are the company’s goals fulfilled through this work?

It is our job to protect the company’s reputation by ensuring our investments are solid.  That, my dears, is harder than it looks. Suppose your company provides a grant to a nonprofit working to cure a disease. They tell you they’ll use that money to fund research. Time comes to receive their grant report and you see nothing. They don’t respond to emails or phone calls. You don’t know where the money has gone. Further, the organization’s unresponsiveness leaves a hole in your budget this year. You now have less than a month to find and vet a nonprofit to fill their spot. Otherwise, that money isn’t distributed and your company’s role in the community diminishes. This may seem small, but it isn’t. It isn’t just writing checks. CSR is relatioship building and trust development at the deepest level.

#3:
I just want to change the world.

This may sound heartless. Changing the world is a worthy endeavor. But it’s far too broad to be an effective goal. What is a better goal? I want my company to make substantial but incremental changes in our communities. I want to see those changes move the needle on key issues beyond our communities. I want those changes to have environmental, social and governance impact.

When you speak to CSR professionals or interview for jobs, remember those goals. Incremental change matters. Repeat taht over and over until it sticks. Incrementalism makes real change in the world. You (yes, you) cannot change the way the world thinks overnight. You cannot end HIV or AIDS. You cannot change millions of lives for impoverished children today. These changes take an incredible amount of work and incredible amount of time. That doesn’t mean we can’t get them done. We can. But it takes longterm planning, major accomplishments on short-term goals, and once again – time! To get a job in this field, you must be realistic and pragmatic and maintain your idealism and drive.

If you struggle to balance these ideas, buy Christine Bader’s book “Girl Meets Oil: The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist.” Christine Bader, former CSR professional at BP and today the Director of Social Responsibility at Amazon, is a premier resource in this field and anyone who wants to work or does work in this field should read her work.

#4:
I want to get a job in corporate because I know it pays better than my nonprofit.

Money can’t buy happiness. It’s an old adage, but it’s true. Sure, corporate salaries are generally more generous than those in the nonprofit sector. But moving just to make more money will never make you happy. Corporations, like all businesses in all other sectors, have drawbacks as well. Corporations are susceptible to market conditions and layoffs. They are financially motivated in many ways. They can be hierarchical. At a nonprofit, you may be down the hall from the CEO. In a corporation, this is not always true. Further, corporations demand expertise. At a nonprofit, being the “Jill of All Trades” may be more valuable than it is to a corporation.

Ask questions in any interview process about more than just the Benjamins. Culture counts, so does your team, and the values a company stands on.

#5:

Free lunches, right? Nonprofits must be clamoring to pay for your meals.

Alright, alright, you’re right about this one. But I included it here for two reasons.

  • First, never let a fundraiser buy you dinner. Again, an old adage, but a true one.
  • Second, lunching with nonprofits may sound fun but saying “no” to a well prepared ask never is.Every nonprofit in the world began for a good reason. At some level, all nonprofit organizations have compelling mission statements. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t exist. So sure, you might have fun having lunch with nonprofit fundraisers. But my advice is only to dine with those you’re serious about working with as a partner. Funding is sometimes like dating – don’t lead a guy on!

These are just a few of the frustrating topics handled by anyone in the CSR field. To be successful, make an effort to avoid these generalizations in your discussions. Ask questions instead of making statements. Listed to the advice you’re receiving. These small changes will make all the difference.

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