How to Tell Your Corporate Philanthropy Story with Authenticity

May 24, 2017 10:00 AM ET
Campaign: CEO Corner

How to Tell Your Corporate Philanthropy Story with Authenticity

During Women’s History Month in March, the JetBlue Foundation (who, as luck would have it, is a Versaic client) hosted 75 girls between the ages of 8 and 12 to learn what it’s like to “Fly Like a Girl” at a hangar in New York’s JFK airport.

A video about the event shows a technician checking an engine, a pilot getting the cockpit ready for flight, determined girls sitting in the captain’s seat to try out the controls, and interviews with women who work at JetBlue as technicians and pilots. As the scenes flash by, JetBlue’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Icema Gibbs notes that girls don’t often see themselves in those jobs because they are usually occupied by men. “This gives girls an opportunity to see themselves in people actually doing these roles,” Gibbs says.

It’s clear from the footage that both the girls and the women working at JetBlue are equally inspired. That’s because they are helping change gender ratios in the U.S. aviation industry, where only 7 percent of pilots and only 3 percent of aircraft maintenance technicians are women.

What makes this video so powerful is its authenticity: Youth and education is a core pillar of the JetBlue Foundation’s giving program, and this pillar aligns with the company’s focus on diversifying the aviation workforce.

For companies like JetBlue, corporate philanthropy is an expected part of corporate communications, and sharing these stories gives them a chance to engage in important conversations about critical global issues. But they must do this in an authentic way to truly connect with stakeholders.

Based on our work with companies, we have identified four steps that can help ensure your story truly reflects your company’s core business and values.

Step 1: Understand your story’s purpose.

Before telling your story, it’s important to understand how your story reflects your company. How does the story speak to what you are doing as an organization or the values you are promoting?

Understanding the purpose behind your company’s CSR or corporate philanthropy initiatives will help you identify the most important stories for your company to share. In the case of JetBlue, the company’s diversity and education initiatives are about building a strong and inclusive future workforce for the aviation industry.

To define your company’s relevant stories, start by asking: In what ways does my company contribute to the environment or society? Why is that relevant to my business? How is my company working to advance progress on these issues? In short, be true to your mission.                                    

Step 2: Consider your audience.

The second step will help you understand why your story matters to your audience. Who are you trying to reach, and why? Andrea Learned, who works with socially and environmentally responsible companies and organizations on influencer relations, says sharing CSR stories should be less about bragging and more about engaging with your audience on issues that you both care about. It can also be about inviting new audiences into the fold. “It’s your contribution to this bigger, longer-term impact collaboration,” she says.

Start by asking yourself which of your stakeholders care about the issues your company is working to address, and which of your stakeholders embrace your company’s core values. (Of course this starts with knowing who your stakeholders are!) Then consider how the story you are telling contributes to the conversation about those issues. The JetBlue video described above is likely aimed at reaching an audience of people who care about diversity in business; women in technology and engineering; and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education. It contributes to the conversation by offering a template on how to engage girls in a hands-on workshop where they interact with real-life role models in aviation.

Step 3: Identify channels where your audience is already gathered.

There are innumerable channels where companies can tell their stories, including blogs and video, reports and white papers, events and webinars, marketing collateral, media and partner publications, and social media.

To narrow the field, identify which channels already reach your intended audience. Also consider which channels are most strategic for your company. If your company has a large presence on LinkedIn but not Instagram, and your story is targeted at a business partner or NGO stakeholder audience, as opposed to a consumer audience, LinkedIn would be the best channel for distributing your content. If you don’t regularly feature CSR stories on your company blog, it might be better to post your blog or video on a channel like GreenBiz, 3BL, TriplePundit, or Sustainable Brands.

Learned suggests looking for channels and distribution networks that reflect the kind of influencers you want to be associated with. “Who do you want to be seen, trusted, and respected among? That’s how you choose your channels,” she advises.

Step 4: Engage with your audience.

The final step in CSR storytelling is to engage your audience in a way that is authentic and not self-promotional. This means posting your story and sharing it, but also listening and responding to feedback. And it means promoting the work others are doing to advance progress on issues that your company is focused on.

This is particularly important in social media, where you can use your company’s platform and voice to highlight the great work of others. On Twitter, for instance, JetBlue uses the hashtag #JetBlueForGood to engage with its audience, curate stories about the company’s social and environmental work, and highlight the work of its partners and grantees.

Telling your CSR story in an authentic way will not only help your company promote its core values and good work, it will help inspire others to join your efforts in making progress for a better world.

At Versaic, we want to hear from you: What is your company’s CSR story? Tag @Versaic, and we’ll share highlights via Twitter.

Having a management system that tracks quantitative data and qualitative information on your CSR and corporate philanthropy programs can help you identify stories to tell. Learn more about how Versaic can help.