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CSR Executives Test New Framing to Describe Their Giving Strategies  

As a consultant, sometimes it’s hard to know if the frameworks we create resonate with practitioners who are actually doing the work. So it was a powerful moment for me last week when CSR executives adopted the language we developed in our recent Simplifying Strategy toolkit, a resource we hoped would provide useful vocabulary for executives looking to clarify their strategic intent for corporate giving.

I recently completed a 6-month, 5-city tour to connect with over 100 CSR executives in Boston, Minneapolis, Chicago, Seattle, and New York to share and discuss the Simplifying Strategy tools. These discussions provided helpful, real-time feedback on what support is most useful to companies looking to be more strategic with their giving.

When I was in New York last week for the UN Global Compact’s event, “Sustainable Development Goals and the Private Sector: Business Leadership toward a Sustainable World,” I had the privilege of moderating a health care panel with 3 speakers from Cigna and Pfizer. To provide a conceptual framing for the discussion, I shared a few of the tools in our paper, including a visual of different Impact Models (see below).

With that framing, each panelist shared how they aspire for “ecosystem change” in their corporate societal engagement. Mary Tullis Engvall and David Figliuzzi of Cigna described how critical it is to move beyond the health care setting to addressing social determinants of health such as housing, transportation, and social services—an approach that requires moving to systems change. Jenny Sia of Pfizer recognized that its support of entrepreneurs in health care delivery cannot be successful without a strong ecosystem.

In the afternoon, I attended a session focused on multi-stakeholder partnerships in addressing water scarcity with speakers from Nestlé Waters, Unilever, and CEO Water Mandate. 

“We used to be more confetti, now we’re concentrated, but going forward we know we need to be focusing on ecosystem change,” said Deb Fillis Ryba describing Nestlé Waters’ work in the Santa Ana River Watershed in Southern California.

“Nine years ago we had a confetti approach, but needed to focus on scale of impact. We can’t do it alone, so we needed to work together with others,” shared Eric Ostern of Unilever discussing his company’s water work.

It was thrilling to hear executives from leading global companies, with sophisticated CSR platforms, using the Impact Models to depict their efforts.

While we know the CSR field continues to be littered with competing jargon and terminology, I am heartened that CSR executives are finding these particular tools to be helpful in their continuing quest for focused, business aligned, and outcome-oriented societal engagement portfolios. 

Have you applied these strategy tools in your organization? We welcome your feedback as we seek better ways to support companies in this important work. 

Learn more about FSG’s CSR services >

Greg Hills

Managing Director