by Peter Dudley, Chief Development Officer at Cancer Support Community, formerly SVP and Manager of Community Support Programs at Wells Fargo
The Charities@Work preconference peer-learning workshop perfectly encapsulated what I love most about the Charities@Work conference, and what sets it apart from every other CSR conference I attend: It brought together experienced professionals from across industries, backgrounds, and specialties, and created an intimate, collegial environment where we could not only share our expertise with those new to the field but also learn from each other and hear the fresh ideas from the newcomers. Everyone in the room has a voice and is encouraged to speak, and the creative energy is contagious. It’s also acknowledged that even the most expert among us–especially the most expert among us–got much of our expertise from mistakes and failures. Charities@Work isn’t one of those conferences where speakers are asked to brag about their companies; it’s got an honest and authenticity I don’t feel in other settings. And that leads to some very interesting personal and professional stories, incredible networking, and great friendship-building.
Others will better summarize the summit itself, so here are some of the things I took away from the preconference workshop, where I participated as a member of the workshop faculty:
- People “fall into” this profession in many ways, but the common threads for me were:
- most of us had some community involvement or social good focus, either in our prior jobs or in our personalities
- we all were open to opportunity when it presented itself; many of the faculty came into the profession before CSR was considered a profession, during a time when business schools were just beginning to pay attention to it
- we all had prepared ourselves with the skills necessary to do this work through prior jobs or volunteer activities
- our paths to the job were unique–some of us volunteered and were asked to lead; some of us were in other jobs and moved into CSR; and one of us had actually created her own CSR oriented master’s program, then went out and got a CSR job.
- The business of CSR has evolved over the last fifteen years
- It used to be hard to get the C Suite to think of CSR as anything more than fluff, but now executives understand the value to the brand and to employee engagement
- It’s important to understand the business of your company because leadership expects CSR efforts to align to corporate business objectives, not just “do good”
- CSR activities now face the same scrutiny and hard line management requirements that profit-and-loss units face; we’ve done such a good job of treating CSR like a business function that now it is being treated like one, and that means CSR professionals have to have a thick skin
- Technology changes, demographic changes, attitude changes, and the speed of innovation are all creating a chaotic, fast-changing environment. It is hard to be a CSR professional in that environment because even the definition of and approach to CSR can change faster than the time it takes to launch a program and give it enough time to gain traction.
- Collaboration is a key skill that’s required–there is more collaboration, both within a company across functional lines and between companies, that being able to work with multiple personalities across multiple geographies in multiple cultures is a valuable skill
- And finally, some skills and attributes that CSR professionals need to succeed today and in the future:
- Data literacy. Although you don’t have to be a data analyst, you do need to be able to understand your program data enough to use it to guide your programs and to report to your leadership. You can team with data analysis professionals, but in the end you will have to be able to explain the nuances of the data you work with.
- Patience. Often, CSR efforts are a marathon but get judged by business leadership on short term results. A new program or approach may take several cycles, or several years, to show the real impact you are aiming for. You will have to fight the business’ tendency to say, “We tried it, it didn’t work, kill it.”
- Innovation. Things we used to think innovative are now table stakes, and in ten years the brilliant ideas of today will be taken for granted.
- Networking. Join networks, both national and local, of other CSR professionals. Get to know them–they tend to be good people–and maintain networks and friendships.
- Humility. It’s important to make the work about the work, not about your ego. Often, the best results come when you convince someone else that your good idea was actually their good idea. If you focus too much on who gets the credit, you may be unable to get the traction you need for your work.
The workshop continued with peer coaching and problem-solving, with attendees bringing issues to the table for discussion and new ideas. The table I participated in had a robust discussion across several topics from disaster response to handling employee engagement during a major merger.