Deep Dives

Are your social impact initiatives strategic? Here are 4 questions to ask

Nicole Lambert
July 6, 2023
Deep Dives

Are your social impact initiatives strategic? Here are 4 questions to ask

A strong social impact strategy can transform how your company operates and create long-term value for stakeholders and the world. A company’s social impact strategy can cover everything from health and safety, to DEI to community partnerships and support. However, social impact is about more than “doing good.” It is about leveraging your company’s unique capabilities to provide value to the community. In part II of our ESG Field Manual, we highlighted how a company’s social impact initiatives grant them a social license to operate and be a competitive advantage. Moreover, these programs play a pivotal role in driving employee engagement and building reputation. 

Like any element of a company’s sustainability efforts, social impact programs should be strategic. So, how do you know if your social impact initiatives pass the test? If you can say “Yes” to the following questions, your social impact initiatives are strategically aligned with your sustainability strategy and community needs:

  • Are our social social impact programs, policies, and initiatives aligned with topics that are a priority to our business? 

Much like a sustainability strategy, social impact strategy should align with a company’s material topics, or those issues that are of highest priority to the business. A company’s social impact strategy and sustainability strategy should aligned across key strategic pillars and topics. 

  • Do our social impact programs, policies, and initiatives leverage the unique skills, abilities, products, and services of our business?

Your employees are your greatest asset. They have unique skills and talents that help your business thrive. These, along with considering the social benefit of your products and expanding access to products and services to underserved communities, should be at the forefront of the work you do in the community.

  • Have we engaged with local communities and customized our approach to social impact based on the actual needs of the communities in which we operate? 

To make a positive impact in the community,  programs and initiatives should correspond to the gaps and needs of local communities. Engaging with community stakeholders is key to identifying the overlap between community needs and strategic priorities for the business. 

  • Are our partnerships with local non-profit organizations multi-dimensional (meaning they combine philanthropic giving, employee volunteerism, and/or in-kind donations) and aligned with our broader social impact goals and targets? 

Partnerships should align with your social impact focus areas and strategic goals, as opposed to being ad hoc and scattered across multiple areas without a clear focus. The deeper and more robust the partnership, the greater the potential for social impact. 

Companies recognize the importance of strategic alignment for their social impact programs. For example, Mastercard’s Impact Fund, administered through the Center for Inclusive Growth, highlights the intersection of DEI, social impact, business value, and corporate giving initiatives. The Fund was created in 2018 and focuses on three strategic areas aligned with Mastercard’s business strategy: (1) financial security, (2) small business growth, and (3) impact data science. Mastercard applies a DEI lens to grants and programs, for example, researching how COVID disproportionately impacts communities of color. The Fund also supports Mastercard’s employee matching gift and scholarship fund, creating a mechanism for employee development and training, employee support, and employee engagement. They have aligned to the business, tapped into the unique skills and knowledge of their employees, and engaged with local communities to identify needs that the Fund can fill. 

However you answered the questions above, remember that creating social impact and building strategic social impact initiatives is a journey. A key piece of this program design and measurement. Look out for our upcoming feature, Designing strategic programs and measuring social impact, to learn how to take your social impact initiatives from strategy to action.

Are your social impact initiatives strategic? Here are 4 questions to ask
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