Member recruitment and retention efforts hinge on showing how associations’ and members’ values align

25 February 2021

In recent years, organizations of all kinds have introduced programs and initiatives designed to give back to their communities and the greater good, focusing on everything from reducing carbon footprints and improving labor policies to charitable giving and volunteer opportunities. Called corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, the movement has become a major driver in both employee recruitment and customer acquisition and retention, with increasing numbers of employees and consumers alike citing companies’ commitment to CSR as a key influence in their employment and purchasing decisions.

Associations large and small are joining the movement, developing CSR programs to not only do their part to contribute some good to the world, but to demonstrate to new and prospective members that their values align with the audiences they serve.

It Starts with Leadership

Members and prospects are looking for far more than a statement about CSR on an organization’s website when evaluating whether to engage with that organization. And while companies that have effective CSR programs are more profitable than companies that don’t, research suggests that people only trust that an organization has clear values when leaders adhere to those values, even if it comes at a cost.

Case in point: When the drug store chain, CVS, pivoted into health care, in doing so, the company decided to stop selling tobacco products, giving up around $2 billion in revenue.

For some companies, though, it’s not about the money. Starbucks teamed up with SCS Global Services and Conservation International to develop the Coffee And Farmer Equity (CAFE) Practices standard to ensure that Starbucks ethically sources sustainably grown and processed coffee. The coffee company now sources 99% of its coffee ethically.

A closer-to-home example: AH launched its own Social Responsibility Committee (SRC) of employee volunteers to provide a forum to allow AH and its employees to contribute positively to the communities around it.

“The SRC was formed initially by a staff recommendation, which led to Social Responsibility becoming one of AH's core values,” said Kyle Schaller, AH employee and Chair of AH’s SRC. “This heavily influences the culture at AH, as it allows our employees the opportunity to come together for a common cause, which is especially important now more than ever, as we engage with each other being on screens more often than not.”

Especially as the world continues to focus on recovering from the social unrest spurred by the death of George Floyd in the Summer 2020 and leaders across the country work to ensure diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a reality in their organizations, association leaders play a vital role in ensuring their CSR programs truly represent the culture and values of their association.

Formulating a CSR Program for Associations

Get started by identifying what causes your association or members would advocate for. “Organizations really just need one person with a passion for social responsibility,” Schaller said. “From there, they can recruit other like-minded volunteers to form a committee. One of the hardest parts for our committee is actually selecting charities/organizations to partner with because there are so many great organizations out there doing such great things.”

For philanthropic efforts, an association may elect to donate money, products, or even services to social causes, non-profits, and even in response to natural disasters. AH Client Partner the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) launched an effort in 2019 to send supplies, equipment, and even manpower after Hurricane Dorian destroyed much of the Bahamas and left buildings with dangerous mold damage. NADCA members volunteered their time traveling to the battered islands to help clean the damaged HVAC systems in public buildings.

For associations looking to make an impact, the options are limited only to what their members and community are willing to contribute. For some, that extends not just to philanthropy and volunteerism, but taking the charge on social justice.

Corporate Social Justice

While it would seem like companies that have CSR programs are tackling social issues, merely supporting causes isn’t enough: consumers are looking to organizations to demonstrate what they are doing to actively address racial and social inequities.

Corporate Social Justice (CSJ) is a reexamination of CSR that sets its focus on programs or initiatives that can be measured by the “lived experiences of groups harmed and disadvantaged by society,” according to the Harvard Business Review. While CSR is a framework of trust created by a company or association between its stakeholders, CSJ uses real life experiences to create a better work environment and society.

When deciding a goal or vision for an association CSJ program, develop an intentional and thoughtful process that encompasses stakeholders in the association, including leadership, staff, and members. This will help determine what issues cross with an association’s mission and the needs of its stakeholders. Remember: this isn’t display goals that sound impressive or to showcase a goal a leader or board president likes, it’s to create a better vision for an association and play a part in creating everlasting change. Associations can even evaluate an existing CSR program to see what might be incorporated into a CSJ program.

If an association is trying to address systemic racism, don’t stray away from analyses that can shine a light on the issue. Associations can play a role in maintaining and creating inequities through hiring structure, pay gaps, and more, and therefore must take a stance on social movements through public statements and action. AH Client Partner the American Neurological Association (ANA) took bold strides to address what it believed was a history “marred by systemic racism” with its Social Justice Symposium, the launch of a Social Justice Task Force, and dedicated funds for sponsoring DEI education—all with a commitment to deliver on DEI, confront the past, and promote a culture of social justice.

To ensure that any CSJ efforts are not only taken seriously but are effective, establish goals and metrics for the initiatives along the way. Maintaining these goals and metrics shows that an association is socially conscious, forward-thinking, and establishes trust with members and prospects who value ethics and honesty from organizations with which they engage.

Expanding the Reach of your CRS

Simply establishing a CRS or CSJ program and assigning a committee or task force doesn’t mean the program is effective or connecting with members and prospects, especially as they weigh whether your organization’s values align with their own, as membership trends have shown. How do association leaders broaden the reach of these efforts?

For an AH initiative focused on spreading kindness amid a dearth of negativity, bringing in a social media influencer to help expand the campaign fit the bill.

The Kindness Challenge asked AH staff to show kindness in their communities and share their stories on social media. The most inspiring story won a $500 cash donation to the charity of their choice.

“The stories we received were touching, moving, and put into perspective that kindness does not have to be a grand gesture,” Bob Waller Jr., CAE, AH President and CEO said. “Rather, it can be an opportunity taken to let someone know you care, that they matter and that they’re seen.”

Later, the Kindness Challenge was expanded to the public to involve more people than just AH’s staff. This allowed the challenge to spread the message of the challenge, to let AH’s Client Partners know that AH is always looking for new ways to engage with clients, their members, their staff, and the public.

Now is the Time

As members and prospects increasingly scrutinize their membership dollars to determine which organizations best align with their values, and as society calls for organizations of all kinds to take a stand for causes that improve the world and society around us, association leaders are in a position to affect significant change for their organizations and the industries they represent. CSR and CSJ programs are just one way associations can demonstrate their commitment to the causes their members are passionate about.

Beyond that, CSR programs bring association volunteers and staff together in a way that other initiatives can’t. “By engaging our staff in community volunteer opportunities and philanthropy, we come together as not just an organization, but as a family,” said Schaller. “It really brings us all closer together and helps us work more cohesively.”

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