Nine Signs You Need to Refresh Your Social Impact Approach

By Carol Cone CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE

By Carol Cone, CEO, Carol Cone ON PURPOSE 

Few companies of any size would let marketing or operations coast for a year or two without strategic review. A lack of regular planning is an equally big risk when it comes to social impact initiatives. And, considering brands with a high sense of purpose have experienced a brand valuation of 175% over the past 12 years, failure to keep up could put you at a significant disadvantage.

Whether you’re a leader in fast-growing company, a corporation, or nonprofit, here are telltale signs you should refresh your social impact initiative.

  1. Stagnant metrics – most successful purpose programs rely on an army of advocates. If your army isn’t more engaged in 2019 than they were last year, it’s time to ask why. (If you’re not tracking meaningful metrics to begin with, start now.) Plan now to realize annual growth in key performance indicators, such as the number of people involved, issue impact, sales results, or funds raised.
  2. Roll-over planning — many businesses practice zero-based budgeting, in part because it focuses the entire organization on strategic priorities and challenges everyone to think and innovate. If you’re simply taking a “roll-over” approach to your purpose-related strategies and doing similar to what you did last year, chances are you’re missing valuable opportunities. 
  3. New market conditions – industries are changing fast. Best practice is to conduct robust external benchmarking of your purpose programs and policies every other year. New competitive threats or changing market conditions (consolidation, regulation) also signal a need to review your program’s evolution.    
  4. Changing issue supporters – when investing in purpose, you need to do more than differentiate from your direct industry competitors. You need to stand out among other supporters of your cause. From women’s empowerment to clean water or STEM education, it’s probably a crowded field. Finding opportunities takes an intimate understanding of the other players, whether corporate, nonprofit, philanthropic, academic and governmental. If they’re changing their approach or new champions enter the space, take heed.
  5. Disconnect with their day job – maybe your employees love your social issue, but don’t see how it relates to their day-to-day work. As a leader, your job is to motivate by making the connection. You might need a new approach to communications, or new programs that bridge the gap and deliver more direct business value. Nonprofits can face this challenge, too, with well-intentioned initiatives that don’t seem cohesive, or back-office workers who feel divorced from the field.
  6. Little partner magic – are your partners taking you for granted? Or, are you failing to challenge them? Are you engaging in joint strategic planning, innovating, and proposing ways to “sweat” all your assets? If not, it’s time to re-evaluate your expectations, and perhaps your partnership model.   
  7. Lack of visibility – are your social impact programs known by the stakeholders who matter most to you? If not, it’s a sign that your assets aren’t working hard enough, and you need to forge innovative programming that compels people to join and share. What’s more, you need to back that content with sustained and strategic communications to break through.
  8. No new assets – speaking of assets, when was the last time you created something new? Bold goals, proprietary research, first-ever policies, special events, social content, grand challenges, video and creative, and new partnerships all can generate buzz and help drive greater social and organizational impact.
  9. Executive changes – while you might not have seen the warning signs above, chances are that a new executive will. If your organization has experienced executive transitions, ask to introduce your purpose program and explore ways your efforts can add value to the new leader’s agenda. Of course, you don’t need to wait for leadership changes. The new year is the perfect time to reach out.

These are just some of the signs that you should take a strategic approach to refreshing your purpose program. That doesn’t necessarily mean you need a completely new issue focus or even new partners.

With ongoing innovation, your efforts could join the ranks of iconic initiatives – like the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women or Starbucks’ commitment to employees – which continue to return social and business dividends year over year, for more than a decade.

Carol Cone: Carol Cone is the CEO of Carol Cone ON PURPOSE and one of the foremost experts in social purpose, having pioneered early social impact initiatives in the 80s. Throughout her career, she has championed innovation in social impact, continually working to accelerate the evolution of purpose for deep societal and business impact.

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