Q&A with Carmen Perez, Director, Data Insights, CECP
Q&A with Carmen Perez, Director, Data Insights, CECP
CAMPAIGN: Getting to Impact
As CECP's Data Insights Director, Carmen leads the high-performing team that achieves CECP's mission by equipping companies to make data-driven decision in their societal investment strategies. This includes the publicly available pieces Giving in Numbers and Giving Around the Globe as well as custom and exclusive insights and benchmarking products for companies in CECP's coalition. Known for strong facilitation skills, Carmen presents publicly on CECP trends on a variety of topics, with a passion for benchmarking and evaluation of results. She has been quoted in Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets.
Prior to her role as Director, Carmen catalyzed CECP's global research expansion through implementing the Global Guide reporting standard and creating and authoring the first edition of Giving Around the Globe. Carmen contributed to and led the coalition that created the new standard published in the Global Guide to What Counts, released in June 2011. During her tenure at CECP she has also professionalized how CECP provides benchmarking and personally prepared over 350 customized deliverables drawn from CECP's proprietary dataset for corporate community engagement professionals.
Versaic: Why should companies invest in CSR?
Carmen: There are many reasons why it’s smart for companies to devote resources to CSR. One that might really resonate is that business performance is tied to social responsibility. In Giving in Numbers: 2016 Edition, CECP’s signature report that provides data-driven insights on the funds, resources, and skills that companies leverage to solve pressing societal challenges, we found that companies that increased total giving by at least 10% between 2013 and 2015 saw increases in median revenue and pre-tax profit, as opposed to all other companies that instead saw decreases in both metrics. Companies with a stronger sense of purpose also had stronger financial, Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) metrics. In short, companies that are doing good do better financially.
But there are other reasons to invest in CSR. The role of business has always been to address unmet needs, and in these days of heightened societal and economic challenges, corporate community engagement and cross-sector partnerships make sense for society and business. Companies understand the essential role communities play in the health of their business, and by integrating societal investment into their core strategies, CSR becomes a win-win for community and business.
We also know that employees and customers are seeking out new ways to give back through the company and the brand. Our Giving in Numbers data shows that employee volunteer participation rates continued to rise to 33% in 2015 from 28% in 2013. Additionally, about half of the companies we surveyed cited building trust with consumers and other stakeholders as a goal of their societal engagement programs. Fifty-five percent of companies used increased trust (e.g., Edelman Trust Barometer, Nielsen Global Consumer Confidence Survey, etc.) as a benchmark of success for their community investments.
Versaic: What benefits or outcomes should a company expect from well executed CSR programs or initiatives?
Carmen: While tackling challenges such as illiteracy, water scarcity, or workforce development, societal investment brings companies many benefits. These include entry into new markets, filling theR&D pipeline, sustainable supply chains, developing a future workforce, mitigates risk, engages employees, and builds positive brand reputation.
Versaic: How can companies look to expand their CSR programs globally do so in a smart and strategic way?
Carmen: Because deeper integration is the name of the game, look to the company’s business plan when determining next countries for expansion. CSR growth should match the footprint of the company. Most often, this refers to the footprint of employees. Another approach is to focus expansion in new markets; which markets are being discussed at board of directors meetings? Are there places where relationship building and partnerships are key? Community partnerships and investments are an important tool many companies use to expand their CSR reach.
For smart global expansion, CSR teams should also think strategically about local relevance. That is why CECP’s Giving Around the Globe includes regional profiles as well as some country-specific topical content. In addition to research-based pieces like this, internal stakeholders are a great resource. Begin with a listening tour of local colleagues to hear their points of view on how the headquarters strategy would be most effective in their country.
Versaic: What are some things companies should be doing now to demonstrate the impact their CSR programs have?
Carmen: That’s a big question! Demonstrating results is a crucial part of the measurement and evaluation (M&E) process for CSR. CECP would argue that the first step in all cases is to be clear on two things 1) who’s the audience (or stakeholder) and 2) what decision is the information driving. In that way, companies can narrow their M&E approach to suit its purpose. This principle is what underlies the research in Measuring the Value.
Externally, there is renewed attention on what information is shared publicly through CSR/Sustainability/Integrated reporting. Standards and guidelines are important, but companies are increasingly narrowing down to their most material issues.
Versaic: What tips would you offer companies wanting to increase the impact of their CSR programs, both at home and globally?
Carmen: To seek an increase, you first have to know your current results. That brings our focus again to measurement. A strong measurement practice is a topic CECP could write much more about than a few tips! One crucial step often missed is to take action based on what you learn from your measurement and evaluation work. Sometimes the results are counter to what you might expect.
Beyond measurement, an evolving best practice is the idea of building deeper relationships with fewer partners in the community. Many companies have adopted this approach, but many still struggle. If the company seeks big results, it needs to make big bets, and move beyond a multitude of $10,000 or $25,000 streams of cash support.
Lastly, thinking more broadly towards CSR as a whole, the imperative is around integration with the business. That is both in strategy but also implementation of an ESG-oriented approach to all functions in the company.
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