Working in CSR, I have the opportunity to meet many individuals interested in this field. Each time I speak with someone interested in CSR, I field many of the same questions. I hope this set of frequently asked questions will help you with a job search in this field.
Frequently Asked Questions
I’m searching for “corporate social responsibility” on job boards and I can’t find anything.
Unfortunately, CSR departments aren’t always called CSR departments. When I write about my field, I use the term CSR. But even my own company doesn’t refer to it this way. My department is “corporate responsibility” or “CR.”
The problem with job searching in this field is that each company has their own way of referencing the work we do. If you’re searching only for CSR, you won’t find every position. Below is a list of department or position titles and buzz words to look for when job searching in this field.
- Corporate citizenship
- Community relations
- Corporate affairs
- Public affairs
- Foundation Relations
- Volunteer engagement
- Employee engagement
- Stakeholder engagement
- Community development
- Community reinvestment
- Program officer
How do I know what work a position or department might do based on the titles listed above?
At some level, CSR is simple. First, CSR departments work to develop or control the company’s reputation. Second, but of equal importance, CSR departments ensure a company acts in the best interest of its stakeholders. Depending on the size of the company and the industry you may be in, this looks different everywhere.
Consider these tips in decoding a position description:
- Jobs with terms like CR, CSR, and corporate citizenship tend to touch the full gamut of the industry. My job, for instance, includes community giving, stakeholder engagement, employee engagement, volunteerism, environmental sustainability, reporting, and much more. Jobs in these areas are generally (not always) more broad as it relates to the field.
- Corporate affairs and public affairs positions are generally more focused on external stakeholders. These positions might have an element of public or media relations (though, one could argue any CSR job does). You may find these kinds of positions touch CSR but are focused on one stakeholder group like government or the media. Do your homework and look at the job description to find out more details about any specific position.
- Many large companies have departments or employees focused on employee engagement and volunteerism. Often, these individuals fit within a larger CSR strategy. If volunteerism is your passion, look for a job with a larger employer.
- Community development and community reinvestment are terms often used in the financial services industry. There, nonprofit donations relate to the company’s federally regulated Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) duties.
- Program officer or Foundation officer duties are almost always specific to philanthropic giving. Individuals who have titles like these may even work for a corporate foundation and not for the company. This, too, is different in different corporations.
What experience do I need to have to work in CSR? Am I qualified? What jobs are out of my reach?
Generalizations can oversimplify a complicated industry, but let’s use one today. Often, I find a CSR professional’s background can fit into two broad categories:
- Individuals who come to CSR from the nonprofit community
- Individuals promoted from within a company into a CSR role.
There are certainly other ways to become a CSR professional. The two categories above are the most traditional. Today, more and more MBA students are focusing on CSR in school. There are even undergraduate business and economics classes on the field at some universities. So this broad strokes way of looking at our community may change over time. For today, it’s the truth.
What does this mean? If you want to work in CSR, go get a job in a nonprofit organization! This is especially true if your attraction to CSR relates to philanthropy. Most FOundation officers or community investment leaders come from the nonprofit sector. And no matter your role in a CSR department, you will have contact with nonprofits. They may be your grantees, but they may also be community stakeholders.
There is no better way to learn the ins and outs of good grant making than to have been on the other side of the fence. As a former long-time fundraiser myself, I know a bad proposal when I see one. I know when a development director is feeding me a line as soon as it comes out of his or her mouth. Because I’ve been a fundraiser, I can be a better funder. This advice may not play well with everyone interested in this field. Nonprofits aren’t glamorous or lucrative. But if you want to work in CSR, working in nonprofit first works.
I have worked in the nonprofit sector. Maybe I even have 10+ years of development experience. Now how do I make the transition?
This is the tricky part. Working in nonprofit fundraising likely gives you a built-in network in the CSR space. This is especially true for corporate and foundation focused fundraisers. But wait….they’re your donors! I can’t tell you what will work for everyone, but I can tell you what worked for me. Approaching what may be a conflict of interest is never easy.
- Reach out to your closest contacts in the industry and ask for an informational interview. Even if the person is a donor, this language will protect you. Be clear in your initial request the meeting is personal and not related to your organization. Open with something like this: “I know we work together on behalf of my organization, but I’d like to spend some time with you to ask some questions about your job for my own personal development. Could we have an off-the-record conversation that may help me in my career?”
- Keep a separation of church and state when it comes to your job search and your job. Don’t try to pass this off as a donor meeting. Do this on your own time and with your own resources. No exceptions.
- Get involved in industry groups where both nonprofit and CSR professionals gather. In my city, Chicago Women in Philanthropy is a cross-section where you can meet both fundraisers and funders. Also, look for groups in your city specific to CSR. In Chicago, CR Group is a monthly breakfast meeting group of CSR professionals and their colleagues. I’m happy to invite interested parties to events like these. Feel free to reach out to me for more information.
What other questions do you have about a job search in CSR? Post them in the comments here and I will answer them in a subsequent post.