Changing the Face of Corporate Social Responsibility

April 1, 2014

In April 2013, Blair Taylor, chief community officer for Starbucks, stood before a room of nearly 1,000 public administrators and declared that the government can’t change communities alone.

He went on to say that companies like Starbucks must deeply invest in communities. The concept, which Taylor called “giving deep and not wide,” was counter to how organizations have traditionally handled corporate social responsibility.

A (short) history

Corporate social responsibility, or CSR, is a relatively new aspect of the business culture.

It was created in response to pressure from stakeholders to be transparent in business operations. For many companies, it started as an extension of their human resource function. Companies created opportunities for their employees to engage outside company walls to generate good will for the company’s brand. It looked something like this:

  • Employees volunteered in the community.
  • People took photos of the employees volunteering.
  • The company shared the photos with stakeholders.
  • The company’s stakeholders were happy to see that their company cared about the community and they continued the relationship with that company.

The evolution

Soon, it was time for CSR to evolve — as all things must do. Companies began to realize that through CSR activities, their stakeholders and the community could have a positive impact on the bottom line.

At this time, many companies decided to leverage the good will generated by CSR activities more strategically. They did this by moving CSR from the human resources department to the marketing department and connecting their CSR activities to their marketing goals.

The move has proved to be a great way to enhance the brand’s story and increase visibility while having some short-term impact on the community.

The future

Late last year, our country’s government was forced to shut down because our leaders couldn’t agree on how to balance the budget. Our deficit was high, the need was great and the desire to tax the populous was low.

Despite a compromise, this demonstrated a need for everyone to contribute to maintaining the economic and social health of the country and its people.

This is a point that Taylor made during his address to the public administrators, stressing the need for corporations to take some responsibility for making long-term impacts on the community — giving deep — using some of their billion-dollar profits. For this to occur, companies have to redefine their CSR programs. No longer can CSR be used to only benefit companies. It must evolve into a function that builds business and has a long-term, sustainable impact on the community.

Companies must make CSR a core part of their business model, not just an extension of another function. They can achieve this by doing the following:

  • Connecting CSR to organizational business goals. CSR activities must be aligned with the organization’s core mission, values, and service or product. These activities must work to achieve business objectives and should have measurable outcomes.
  • Making CSR more than a brand campaign. Having visibility is great, but how does the visibility help move the needle? If the answer doesn’t come back to a measurable business outcome, then the company needs to reevaluate its CSR activities.
  • Designing programs that are mutually beneficial. CSR is not just about the company. It is also about the community. Activities should not be limited by a specific period of time. They should be long-term and have the ability to impact a large number of people or an entire community for generations.
  • Creating funding models that give deep, not wide. Currently, many companies set budgets for their CSR work and distribute money to organizations through a grant process. They spread their funds across many organizations and causes. Using the “deep giving” model, organizations will invest heavily in one area, which creates a self-sustaining revenue stream to ensure long-term impact. Partnerships and collaboration are also key to the success of this model.

The Starbucks Way

Blair Taylor and Starbucks not only talk the talk, but they walk the walk. The Starbucks Community Store Model provides a great example of the giving deep, not wide corporate social responsibility model.

Starbucks community stores partner with a trusted nonprofit organization that offers services designed to meet the needs of the community around the store. Fifty percent of that store’s profits goes to this organization, providing a reliable and sustainable revenue stream for the organization.

Additionally, it raises awareness of the organization’s work and creates a space for community dialogue and engagement.

To date, Starbucks’ community stores have generated $800,000 for holistic community revitalization programs focused on education, safety, housing, health and employment.

Why the Starbucks model works

It is directly connected to the organization’s core values. This initiative partners with nonprofit organizations that work to directly impact the health of communities.

It is sustainable. Starbucks has created an initiative that is self-sustaining. As long as the store operates in the community and continues to make a profit, there will be funding generated for the nonprofit. This means that there is a consistent revenue stream for the nonprofit that allows it to continue its work in building a healthy community.

It is helping the community. One of the key benefits of this program is the partnership feature. Starbucks doesn’t look to do the work alone. They have partnered with organizations, which not only extends the service delivery, but also opens doors for future partnership opportunities that will continue to allow them to impact the community with minimal investment. 


Brandi N. Williams, APR
Brandi N. Williams, APR, is a social activist, chair of the Hip Hop Caucus’ Charlotte Leadership Committee, chief engagement officer and co-founder of the bridge public relations, a PR firm focused on social good. Follow @mizzbea2u on Twitter or friend her on Facebook at:


Benjamin J. says:

I find myself being skeptical of this new corporate interest in community. Why now? Why so sudden?

April 10, 2014

brandi n. williams says:

Benjamin: There is definitely a business interest. I am suggesting that it is more than just a business interest. Everyday I watch the news I hear of the shortfall in public funds. During the same conference Mr. Taylor said, you all are letting companies make billions of dollars while we suffer. It's the truth. They have an interest in a healthy community and should invest in it ... not nominally or on the surface as is the current standard, but deeply. They need to invest in a way that creates change and helps to pull people out of economic despair.

June 30, 2014

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