Trends in Corporate Social Impact: What’s Shaping the Sector in 2023?

The past few years have put corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments through the wringer. In addition to the challenges of COVID-19, social justice movements, geopolitical unrest, and staff turnover, your CSR team is also probably trying to meet board demands, engage colleagues and community members, and align your strategies with an uncertain economic future.

So, what does 2023 look like for corporate social impact? How should the sector prepare for a troubled economy? Over the last month, we’ve chatted with dozens of CSR professionals. Here are the seven trends we heard in those conversations. 

Sara Ansell, True Impact's senior manager of social impact, explains recent corporate social impact trends.  

Trend 1: CSR and the Recession: How to Protect Your Social Impact Programs 

The main backdrop heading into 2023 concerns the potential recession. Many companies are operating with an economic slowdown in mind, and the temptation to cut their corporate philanthropy may rear its ugly head. 

Leaders at the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), Points of Light, and Chief Executives for Corporate Purpose (CECP) believe that 2023 will put CSR to the test. During recessions, they argue, corporate social impact is even more important, as it has the potential to strengthen your business in the short term and solidify relationships with stakeholders over the long term. Customers, investors, and employees alike look at corporate purpose when making decisions, and cutting commitments to the community may affect their desire to support your company.

When budgets are a concern, corporate volunteering, benchmarking, and in-kind donations are just some of the ways to extend your impact without breaking the bank. Clarifying your social impact strategy can also help your team focus on the causes that matter the most to your stakeholders. 

For more advice on preparing your CSR programs for an uncertain economy, read 7 Tips to Protect Your CSR Programs in a Recession.


Trend 2: Connecting ESG to Business Success in Spite of Backlash

From socially responsible investing to the anti-ESG “woke capitalism” movement, Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) has become a trending topic far beyond the corporate citizenship sector. Despite the controversy, its benefits are clear. ESG has evolved from risk mitigation to value creation for companies worldwide. 

Increasing impact and trust with stakeholders while bettering society at a global scale? Sounds like everybody wins here.

Download CSR and ESG: A Practical Guide to Social Impact Reporting for resources and templates to capture the value of your corporate social impact in ESG reporting, even in an anti-ESG environment.


Trend 3: More Public Interest, More Demands for Impact Data

Corporate social impact teams have never had more eyes on their work. CSR professionals have had to field more data queries, questions, and speaking requests than ever before, from reports for their ESG department to presentations explaining how their programs will better society by 2030.

This desire for transparency means CSR teams will need clear impact data to demonstrate the results of their programs to their leadership, board, and other stakeholders. Executives in the field predict they will need impact data to “justify or secure their budgets” this year. 

*Subtle plug* True Impact uses evidence-based data to generate actionable insights. Schedule a demo to see how we can help you protect and expand support for your CSR programs.


Trend 4: Racial Justice and DEI: The buzz is gone, but the impact remains. 

After the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, companies were moved to improve racial equity through their CSR and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. While public interest, diversity pledges, and donated funds have gone down since then, DEI integration and nonprofit capacity building remain significant topics for some CSR teams.  

In the past year alone, many companies dedicated resources to improving equity in underprivileged communities, such as STEM employment pipelines and funds to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Supplier diversity, metrics, and getting buy-in from leadership have been popular DEI topics of discussion, whereas capacity building and trust-based philanthropy are often brought up when talking about corporate giving in BIPOC organizations. 


Trend 5: Focus on Outcomes over Proxy Metrics

The importance of outcomes in corporate philanthropy is clear. From direct aid programs to systems policy change, it’s hard to substantiate your work without knowing your actual results.

To drive the point home, nutrition scholars and activists elaborated on the value of outcomes in a recent research article on policies in food security. They argued that food security programs often leave nutrition to the wayside by focusing on quantity over quality. As such, a shift from “food security” to “nutrition security” would improve health, inclusion, and overall well-being instead of filling people with empty calories.


Trend 6: Corporate Social Advocacy: The Importance of Taking a Stand

When the world is in crisis, stakeholders expect companies to speak up and take action. Corporate stances and public reactions to the Russia-Ukraine War and the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe vs. Wade may have pressured companies to respond or risk backlash.

Some companies are trying to design a framework to respond to societal issues. Asking questions about the event may help guide your response, such as: Do we have an invested interest in this issue? Can we make a meaningful difference in this area? Does this directly affect our customers or other stakeholders? 


Trend 7: Stakeholder and Trust-Based Philanthropy: Giving the Power to the People

The health, social, and economic crises over the past few years have brought stakeholder philanthropy and trust-based philanthropy into the limelight. 

Customers, employees, and the general public want companies to support the causes closest to them. Similarly, corporate funders are increasingly looking to trust-based philanthropy to shift the power dynamics in the funder-grantee relationship. However, nonprofits are concerned that this may be the “wave of the moment.”


The Value of Corporate Philanthropy in 2023

An unprecedented pandemic consumed us all in 2020. The resulting crises led to a rise in social justice through 2021. The repercussions of war and geopolitical unrest were felt throughout the world in 2022. Now, in 2023, economic concerns are on everyone’s mind from the boardroom to the supermarket. 

When a recession is a possibility, CSR plays a more important role in sustaining the livelihood of your business and community. Corporate support to nonprofits through funding, volunteerism, in-kind donations, and advocacy can benefit society while improving your relationship with your stakeholders, helping your company to emerge even stronger once the recession dies down.

Are you planning on adapting your CSR strategy this year? Schedule a free consultation with our team to leverage your social impact data in decision making, reporting, and communications in 2023 and beyond.

Image credit: Public domain, CC BY 2.0, CC BY-SA 2.0

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