Misery. This is what three Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) officers recently exuded in three different conversations. Each worked in a different industry. Each worked in a different part of the U.S. One had been in the field for 20+ years, one for 10 years, and one was brand new. All had recently transitioned to new companies. And they were already griping about their jobs.
I was, quite frankly, astonished. I pummeled each of them with questions: “Doesn’t it feel wonderful to support the nonprofits in your community? Aren’t you excited to be able to think strategically about how to make a dent in the community issue on which your company focuses? Aren’t you proud of your company? Aren’t you enjoying giving away money instead of having to beg for it? Aren’t you having fun serving as a collaborator as you bring various stakeholders together to leverage resources for the greater cause? Isn’t it the best job ever?!!”
Each of them sighed before responding. One of them said that he spent most of his time preparing and submitting industry reports that reflected his company’s CSR strategies. Another officer stated that she spent most of her time trying to figure out how to get her company leadership to pay attention to anything that she was doing. And the other said her company had no strategy and wasn’t interested in their impact. The company leadership just wanted her to buy tables at prestigious events that benefited select nonprofits. After talking with each of them, I wanted them to start their own support group.
It made me realize how fortunate I had been in previous positions to have the freedom to develop and implement a strategy, and make a measurable impact. If I needed to get the blessing of the company’s leadership, I had great mentors who helped me frame the request in such a way that it politely commanded attention. I had great relationships with colleagues, and we supported each other’s work.
More often than not, CSR jobs seem pretty cushy. But the reality is that it’s not full of grandeur. Yes, it is wonderful to be able to dole out money and support the community. That is, by far, the highlight of the job and it fulfills our intrinsic need to “do good.” But like any other job, there are challenges. It’s not always easy to demonstrate impact. The company leadership may not have “bought” in to the idea of corporate social responsibility. There are endless hours spent trying to track down data to complete mundane reports. Employees who want to “do good” have their own ideas about how the company should support the community. And since you can’t do it all, there are always unhappy people who are griping about what you do support, and how you do it. It is exhausting and demanding and just hard. And that is probably why starting a support group for CSR professionals may not be such a bad idea!