How Should we Measure CSR's Effectiveness?


Reporting inputs/outputs on CSR reports is becoming ‘meh’. It’s done because it’s easy, and sometimes the only thing to report on. I’ve been working in the social impact space for 20 years, and I don’t know what one million hours of volunteer time means.

It’s a lot of time, but was that time well-used and to what end? It’s like saying I used 10 paint brushes to paint my house. I’m not sure the number of paint brushes is the lead story there.

It’s time we shift from an input mindset to an impact mindset. People don't just want to do something for the sake of it; they want to do something that has impact. And mindset can go a long way towards understanding impact.

For instance, at a recent employee day of service, we had volunteers remove lockers from a third-story hallway of a school. The lockers, which were deemed unsafe, had kept anyone from being able to use that hallway, its classrooms, storage areas, and restrooms for six years.

Once the lockers were removed, though, the principal petitioned the school district for the funds needed to update the area. The school will be able to increase its enrollment and maintain the same class size, lower its existing class size, or offer more electives.

The story wasn't about the hours or number of volunteers. It was the fact that this physical act allowed the school to do something it was not able to do. The impact there is profound.  

There are also times when real impact takes some time to realize.

In 2015, Whirlpool donated washers and dryers to 16 schools in the United States. The brand hypothesized that students who missed school because they lacked clean clothes would be able to use the machines, wash their clothes, and attend school more often.

“We just kept hearing that there was a need for access to clean clothes amongst students, and how without it, students were not even comfortable coming to school,” Jen Tayebi, brand manager for Whirlpool, said in an interview last year.

In the first year, 86% of high-risk students increased their attendance. Teachers reported that 89% of these students participated more in classes. Ninety-five percent were more motivated in class. Ninety-five percent also increased their participation in extra-curricular activities. That’s a huge difference thanks to a few loads of laundry!

The success encouraged Whirlpool to continue its Care Counts program.

The good news, is that the private sector is getting serious about really defining the value of volunteer time on community. IMPACT2030 is working on a framework to measure volunteers’ impact on the Sustainable Development Goals.

While demand for impact measurement is high, there are quite a few barriers. One of the biggest barriers is standardization. Finding the right answer is relatively easy. Getting everyone to agree it's the right answer, that’s hard.

However, we can do hard things; and the good news is that everyone is sick of what we are already doing. So, change is on the horizon!