Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is a commonly discussed topic among consumers who wanted to know how the nonprofits they support use their donations and the businesses at which they shop use their profits. However, this rise in interest in CSR certainly does not mean that everyone understands it or interprets it the same way. Perhaps one of the most common disagreements regarding corporate social responsibility is how it relates to public relations.
CSR could be described as a measurement of a company’s social performance rather than its financial progress. For that reason, at least some of the disagreements regarding the relationship between public relations and corporate social responsibility is due to the fact that the responsibility for handling CSR often falls to the public relations or even human resources personnel.
CSR and Public Relations
Public relations, strictly speaking, deals with the relationship between a company and the individuals the success of that business depends upon, whether directly or indirectly. This relates to the point raised previously regarding consumers’ concern regarding companies’ use of the money they receive. A perfect example is if two charities support the same cause, but one puts 70 percent of every dollar donated toward that cause and 30 percent toward administrative expenses, while the other puts 30 percent toward that cause and 70 percent toward administrative expenses. In this type of situation, most people will be more likely to support the organization that they feel uses its funds more responsibly and effectively.
Cause vs. Effect
People often associate this type of situation with corporate social responsibility, simply because they want to know that they companies they support – whether businesses or nonprofits – behave in an ethical manner. Of course, companies that follow a CSR plan that ensures this type of ethical behavior will necessarily benefit from the positive PR that follows. However, the difference is in the order; CSR, ideally, should be implemented for its own sake – because it is the right thing to do. The PR boost should then be a side effect, rather than the original goal, of implementing a CSR plan.
The Impact of Human Resources
Opinions on whether primary CSR duties fall to public relations or human resources can vary widely. At the end of the day, however, the level of integrity an organization and its employees possess is the real benchmark for CSR. Human resources may have some control over this, but they are not alone in ensuring it – nor, for that matter, are the PR personnel. Ideally, PR and HR personnel should work together, along with company executives, to set the standard of ethical behavior that is expected of each and every employee, no matter what their role. This type of top-down, bottom-up approach is the only way to ensure that everyone at the company is truly on board with the CSR plan.