Top Tip – Increasing your Sustainability / CSR Budget

If you want to increase the influence of Sustainability / CSR in your organisation, you need to increase your budget. Here’s my Top Tips (25 of them) on doing that:


1. Understand what the CEO is trying to achieve in the company

Do everything you can to understand what the CEO is trying to achieve within their time at the company. Connect the dots to how CSR supports what is likely to be one of four main drivers:

  • New Revenue
  • Cost Reduction
  • Innovation
  • Employee Engagement

Understand which ones are important to the CEO, because each of those areas has been connected to CSR – in corporate dialogue and also by research. Make sure you know the connections.

Get the CEO involved in a CSR initiative. Seeing is Believing.

2. Link CSR to strategic priorities

Even if you know what the CEO is trying to do, make sure that you also understand the strategic priorities that other managers are working toward. They aren’t always the same, and you don’t want enemies at budget time because someone thought you were actively destroying value for them.

3. Commit to using more money to deliver more value

Everyone else is talking about how they will deliver more value, so don’t make yourself stand out for the wrong reasons. Resist the temptation to talk about the social value that you have delivered – no-one else gets to talk about customer utility above sales.

4. Befriend the CFO / Finance Department

The budget is all about Finance, so make them an ally not someone you don’t know. Like Paul Klein said (see below), “Try asking your finance team how they would approach assessing and improving the business and social value of CSR.”

If you don’t already know someone, try the CFO, but very likely if they don’t already know who you are, they’re probably not all that interested. But there is almost certainly someone in the Finance team who is interested in exercising the part of their brain that is looking to connect CSR to financial value. According to all sorts of studies, they are likely to be Millennials (born after 1985 or thereabouts) and will fall over themselves to teach you how to talk Finance.

Seeing is still believing when it comes to the CFO, although they will often want to see spreadsheets in addition to whatever CSR thing they do.

(If you’ve made it this far, and are getting a bit bored of the financial emphasis, keep reading…there is more for you soon)

 5. Connect CSR to Revenue Increases

Highlight how CSR has:

  • built relationships with new clients,
  • deepened relationships with existing clients,
  • resulted in new products, and
  • spawned new services.

Of course not all of those will necessarily be relevant, and show that you understand business drivers by sticking to the most important one or two.


6. Measure responses to Client requests for CSR

Take time to track each and every request that has been fulfilled in relation to CSR. Especially keep track of revenue lost because performance on CSR wasn’t good enough to keep previous revenue.

It’s tempting to skip over this one, but doing it will remind even the most sceptical of managers that you have helped them to keep certain clients happy (or just keep clients as clients). This could just as easily be called ‘Connect CSR to Retained Revenue’.

7. Show where you have made savings

Nothing appeals to the CEO and CFO more than your cost-cutting prowess. Be robust in your calculations (using the new friend you have in Finance) but aggregate all savings into a bigger number. Of course, be ready to break it down if necessary.

8. Risk Awareness

Connect CSR to better management of risk. Show how CSR has supplemented the Risk Register and then helped to manage it. Tread carefully, but it might be worth highlighting where CSR risk ISN’T being managed.

And here is a tip that lots of people miss – show how CSR has broadened relationships with existing clients by connecting more of your staff to more of their staff, especially if it involves working together on a community project. The increased relationships will lead to better succession planning and (probably) more stable revenue. That means that more junior people in your organisation already have significant relationships with clients, which may not have happened were it not for CSR.

9. Know which Stakeholders can hurt your business, and how

Understand which stakeholders can hurt your business on CSR issues, how much influence they have and how ready they are to embark on a campaign on their issue.

Of course, you will only know this if you have actively engaged with relevant stakeholders while making assessment of risk and reputation along the way.

10. Understand Materiality

CFOs and CEOs don’t think that ‘Materiality’ means the same thing that CSR Professionals do. Which isn’t all that surprising – it means different things to CSR professionals.

When you are asked, start by identifying the CSR issues that are most likely to change profit figures, not the ones that are most important to stakeholders (and know that the two things aren’t always different).


11. Understand ‘Materiality’

Understand how (CSR) Materiality can really matter to a business, and how it can be used to determine which CSR issues should be given priority.

Start here if you like!

12. Be Honest about what you don’t measure / Identify Value-creation levers

We all struggle in various aspects of CSR to put specific and reliable numbers to performance. Give yourself a greater degree of credibility on the things you do know by being clear about the things you aren’t sure about.

Try to understand the extent to which CSR is a value lever that management can pull to make their organisation more profitable. Be ready to talk about how you might be able to show value creation if only you had a bit of resource to measure it more effectively. Stand ready to say “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

13. Show how CSR has helped to maximise Community Investments

This one sits slightly uncomfortably alongside No. 3, but if done well can highlight your commitment to efficiency and value creation. It shouldn’t be the first thing you talk about with the CFO/CEO.

The increasing appetite for Social Return on Investment from corporate and NGO sectors will help with this and numbers for the amount of social value created. While it’s all still a bit fuzzy, numbers are becoming more reliable.

Do not highlight how effective you have been at increasing corporate giving or employee support (financial and time) – it only serves to highlight that everyone else is carrying the burden of this more than you.

Talk a little bit about how much more efficient you are as a result of being more strategic about community investment.

Do talk about how much more engaged employees who volunteer and who donate, and how much more productive they are as a result.

14. Showcase Innovation

Make sure you communicate the successful innovations CSR has been involved in. If there haven’t been any, look here, then:

15. Target Innovation

Work with the revenue part of the business and commit to finding CSR innovations. Buy the product development team lunch and listen to how they work and what issues they are trying to solve. As someone who is paid to think outside the box, you may just have an insight they need.


16. Connect CSR to Employee Productivity using Big Data

Frankly, it doesn’t matter if the data is big or small, but whatever the size, calling it Big Data currently has a ‘cool’ factor.

Identify correlations between various data sets that your business already maintains. Quick wins can often be found in cross-matching data on employee engagement scores, attendance, productivity, performance ratings, satisfaction, volunteering and involvement on CSR.

When you find correlations, calculate how much better off your organisation is through CSR. Some key things to watch for are:

  • Decreased absence
  • Increased productivity
  • Decreased turnover
  • Talent attraction

17. Show how CSR supports corporate Values

The effect of Corporate Values is notoriously difficult to measure, so don’t try to do that – instead directly connect CSR activity to them. Most Execs understand better than most others in an organisation how difficult it is to get the sort of behaviour that they want from employees and Values is one of the few things that they feel they can have influence over.

18. Have compelling internal communications on the effect of CSR on Employees

OK, this one is a bit tricky to achieve overnight, so if it is too late to get this done before the next round of budgets, invest your own time in a Comm’s plan for next year’s budget.

It doesn’t need to be grand, but something to show that employees care about this stuff will go a long way to securing budget.

19. Have a CSR dashboard

Nothing reeks of reliable data like a dashboard that shows over and under-performance. Even if some of the ‘measurables’ are a little shaky, the point is that you are treating CSR like any other management discipline. You’re measuring what can be measured and putting targets on things that are tricky.


20. Get your KPIs on the Board’s dashboard

If you’ve done the above, the combination of visibility along with an ongoing sense of credibility for CSR can only help to ensure that you at least maintain your budget.

21. Show off your Tools

Whatever tools you use (including Stakeholder Engagement map and a Materiality Matrix), make sure you summarise them and keep them in public view – whether on posters or websites.


22. Take an Expansionist view of CSR

You have probably helped others with their goals outside CSR. Whether it be the HR team, risk team, comm’s team, procurement or client satisfaction, some clear connections to the success of others and making their budgets more effective is an important part of most CSR professionals’ working life.

23. Have a research kit ready to defend CSR

The majority of Exec’s have seen enough of the CSR research that they now have at least a vague understanding of how CSR can contribute to the bottom line. For those that don’t, you might want to have a little pack of research to draw on.

Make sure you have a raft of Case Studies and Research to back up what you are saying.

24. Measure More than you did Last Year

You should already be thinking about how next year’s budget process will be easier next year than this year. What measure could you use to really sell an increased budget next year? Very few CSR professionals have anything like the measures they hope for.


25. Talk about CSR Wins

Find creative ways to get others to show how much they love being involved in CSR programmes.

So when I say Talk about Your Wins, what I really mean is get others to talk about how much they love doing CSR.



If you want another author’s perspective on it, take a look at Paul Klein’s article on getting a CSR budget approved (via Impakt).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

One comment

  1. synjyde says:

    Materiality is definitely key to improved CSR in any company. I totally agree with your ramblings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.