What’s the best way to make a difference as a corporation?

How do you enable your employees to make a difference in a way that maximizes their impact, builds professional skills, and increases their engagement? In addition, how do you use your unique position in the market to enhance these impact efforts and market yourself as a thought leader in that particular area in a way that drives business benefit?

These are the main questions facing companies as they develop their corporate social responsibility (CSR) strategy, and as the leader of a CSR program they are questions I wrestle with every day.

My company, the Advisory Board, a Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas based research, consulting, and technology firm focused on elevating the performance of healthcare and higher education organizations, has always been focused on service. We were founded thirty years ago on principles such as a “spirit of generosity” and going “beyond commerce” to help our members and those in need.

However, our employees have sought to maximize this ethos of service by recently pushing us to ensure we utilize their skills, talent, and interests in the most effective manner. One of the trends at our firm and across the country is that volunteerism and responsibility efforts are increasingly employee-driven and focused on impactful service, rather than a top-down push from executives focused on using CSR as a driver of the bottom line (though executive interest in CSR is also an increasing trend).

This push has led to a surge in skills-based volunteering interest, allowing employees to use their combined time, talent, and interest areas to maximize the positive social change they can drive, while also building professional skills.  As one analyst on our team put it, “I got to lead a study, something I’m at least a year away from in my professional role, but it made me feel ready for the opportunity and grateful to have an initial opportunity in an area I’m so passionate about.”

However, companies cannot develop these programs in a vacuum.  They must understand the available “market” of mission-driven organizations, so that they can understand how to utilize their unique differentiators as a firm to yield the highest positive impact on the world and for their company.

We are proud to work with many great organizations that enable our firm to maximize its impact, and be force multipliers for good with our mission-driven partners.  A Billion + Change has done an excellent job of supporting our pro bono work and 250+ other companies on a national scale, and we are grateful to work with United Way for Greater Austin at the local level in Austin.

In fact, through our partnership with United Way for Greater Austin we have been able to significantly increase the number of volunteers during our October 1-5th Week of Service. By having a week rather than a day of service, our goal is to give all employees the opportunity to participate, and also ensure that we have a robust, impactful set of both hands on and pro bono opportunities for our employees.

During the week, we will be partnering with Meals on Wheels to deliver meals to the elderly, getting our hands dirty helping with clean-up efforts at Montopolis Preserve, preparing lunch for families at the Ronald McDonald House, and continuing strategic pro bono work with the Austin Children’s Shelter.  Many individuals will also find opportunities that week through the United Way’s volunteer platform, Hands On Central Texas.

This week is an exciting time for all of our employees, and a microcosm of the evolution of a CSR program.  During the week our employees will hopefully gain a better understanding of needs in the community, make a small difference during a volunteer activity, and think through how they can leverage their experience to begin making an even greater difference through ongoing, committed hands-on or pro bono efforts.

The same can be said for the lifecycle of a CSR program – hopefully you begin making a difference, refine strategy to take into account what your company is uniquely positioned to provide, and then focus in that area to maximize positive social good and business benefit.

Learn how you can further your company’s CSR through United Way for Greater Austin.

For further information on the Advisory Board’s Community Impact program, media enquiries, or pro bono collaboration, please contact Graham McLaughlin at or 202-266-6370.


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