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Social impact trends that will shape 2020 and beyond

person wearing a volunteer shirt hands another person an item

Social impact, corporate social responsibility, sustainability, purpose-driven brands, social good … call it what you will … statistics show that how companies positively contribute to the communities they do business in and the world around them is more important to their bottom line than ever before. So what are some of the trends in the marketplace that are shaping how companies will adapt their “good” work in 2020, and how will nonprofit causes need to adapt to those trends in order to maintain strong, effective, and vibrant partnerships? I asked several nonprofit executives, corporate social responsibility professionals, cause marketing consultants, and social impact agencies to weigh in. Here are five trends they identified.

Year-round communication

It’s time to cut through the clutter and ensure stakeholders understand the impact a corporate brand is having on society. A post here or there (by both the company and the cause) when a fundraising campaign is in the marketplace isn’t enough anymore. Doing good has got to be part of the brand promise and integrated into marketing and communication 365 days a year.

Social impact partnerships will be boosted by how effectively partners are cultivating an emotional connection for each brand’s respective stakeholders. To facilitate this connection, intentional and ongoing narrative that showcases how the partnership is leading with purpose will have to be integrated into each company’s “always-on” marketing mix—foregoing the traditional “campaign season.” As partners, you are in this together to drive social benefits for the long haul, each and every day. It’s time to be more omnipresent in the partnership’s story.
—Martha Sotelo, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at GameStop

Cause impact will evolve into cause outcomes

When companies give to a cause, it is imperative they know how the funds are used to advance the mission of the cause. Social impact professionals are being asked by their leadership, boards, donors, and employees to define the specific use of funds for public reporting, employee satisfaction, and marketing purposes. While nonprofits can usually provide general impact metrics, companies are increasingly asking their nonprofit partners to go deeper and define cause outcomes.

As someone working daily presenting new partnership opportunities and visiting with existing partners, one of the things I am asked about consistently is outcomes. For the past number of years, impact has been about how many houses we have built. And while this is an important measurement, now these funders are asking deeper questions like how did the home repairs we funded help improve the physical and mental health of those families? How did those home repairs reduce falls and visits to the ER for senior citizens? We have to be ready to measure those outcomes as a nonprofit, or run the risk of our partners choosing another nonprofit that can.
—Chris Perry, VP of Development at Rebuilding Together

A move to “cause authentigration”

Many corporate social good professionals have now defined their social good: what cause pillars they are going to support, what environmental changes they need to make, how they will create a more equitable workplace, etc. But many organizations have still not integrated those social good strategies into other areas of the company, and the goals remain siloed.

A trend I see for 2020 and beyond is “cause authentigration.” Companies today need to find an authentic connection with social impact related to their business sector and they need to fully integrate it throughout their organization. This will include many shifts in corporate thinking, the most important of which is a shift from singular-silo activities to fully-integrated, multi-faceted efforts with all stakeholders, including customers, employees, vendors and investors.
—Mollye Rhea, President at For Momentum.

Creating employee experiences

We all know that nonprofits have got to work hand in hand with their corporate partners to ensure all employees feel truly engaged in the cause. But in this age of employee activism, every nonprofit should go deeper to define what experiences your cause can offer a partner’s employees that drives authentic engagement.

There is a growing emphasis on the power and importance of employee engagement and CSR is a large part of that. Employees of all levels and industries want to understand their employer’s “why” and further, want to truly be a part of it. I believe we’ll need to integrate more hands-on opportunities for employees to give back to their company’s charitable partners—it can no longer just be providing funding; we need to provide experiences for them to truly connect them to the cause and thus increase their engagement. “My job makes me feel like I am part of something meaningful” will continue to be a key driver in employee engagement and companies should leverage their CSR strategies to support this sentiment.
—Christine Doucet, Director, Ace Hardware Foundation & Employee Engagement

Better integration of the offline/online loop

According to DBT Center research, more than 75 percent of executives now believe that the impact of digital disruption on their industries is major or transformative, compared to only 27 percent in 2015. Digital disruption is here and accelerating across all industries, and social impact and nonprofit professionals are adapting rapidly to keep up. Better integration of digital strategies in the offline/online loop is a successful trend we should see more of from companies in 2020 to capitalize better on the power of digital, while still truly connecting with constituents.

We continue to see the power of real-world events that drive emotion—in turn creating tangible success metrics for our clients. These experiences don’t come at the expense of digital connectivity, instead they are aided by and in concert with digital. Using online to drive awareness and attendance beforehand, capturing and sharing authentic moments during, and cultivating engagement and stewardship after. Look for brands to better integrate their offline and online loop around their purpose-driven marketing.
—Brian Powell, Managing Partner at Matchfire


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