It may be tempting to dismiss a CSR report as something that nobody is going to read. After all, how much time should one take on a document that's maybe at best a formality - something that is published out of obligation and nothing else?
There are a few problems with that line of thinking. First, if your organization has created a corporate responsibility statement, that is absolutely meaningless without accountability. Your CSR report creates that accountability by creating metrics and reporting on your progress towards sustainability and other efforts. In addition to this, the fact that most CSR reports are absolutely boring and difficult to read isn't a reason not to create one. That's a reason to put in the effort to write a report that wins over investors, shareholders, employees, and customers.
The corporate social responsibility report is your platform for proving that you are following through on your commitment to be a better corporate citizen. These efforts can impact whether you attract investors and even talented employees. Take a look at these four tips for writing a winning CSR report.
IDENTIFY THE MOST IMPORTANT ISSUES
What are the issues that your investors, employees, and other stakeholders care about most? Are there issues related to sustainability that are also mission-critical for your business? These are the issues that you should be addressing most strongly and your approach to corporate social responsibility. These are also the issues that should feature most prominently in your report.
Consider doing a bit of competitive analysis. Take a look at what your competitors are reporting on. there's a good chance that your audience cares about the same things. You can also ask your own stakeholders directly through surveys, or simply review the questions they've already asked.
In fact, the importance of stakeholder engagement cannot be exaggerated. You must create a means by which people who are invested in your business in any way can provide feedback. You can do this as mentioned above by reaching out directly with surveys. “You can also create feedback panels where a combination of employees, customers, and other stakeholders give their thoughts on the sustainability issues that are relevant to them and impact your business. Ultimately, the idea is to ensure that you are addressing the right concerns,” – says Marie Fincher, a contributing writer at TopEssayWriting.
CREATE CONCRETE GOALS AND TRACK RESULTS
What goals have you mentioned in your corporate social responsibility statement? Does it mention a commitment to using renewable energy sources? What about waste reduction? How are you tracking your progress towards these commitments? In order for your corporate social responsibility report to be meaningful, it has to be specific. That requires establishing where you were on each issue before you started in the efforts, setting goals, establishing a way of measuring progress, and reporting on the progress you've made.
The more transparent the better, because this allows you to be open and honest with stakeholders about the challenges you are facing as well. Your report should also include an action plan addressing how you plan to overcome challenges and shortcomings.
SEARCHABILITY AND ENGAGEMENT ARE KEY
These reports often don't reach their intended audience, because they get buried. It should be easy for any customer or other stakeholder to find this report on your website without having to click through several pages, or digging for a link at the bottom of your website. Instead, feature it in a prominent place where it can be found by anybody who is interested. When you publish it, consider promoting it on your social media sites as well.
Now that it's easy to find, the next step is ensuring that it's just as easy to read. Your report should be easy to read online, mobile-friendly, readable, and interactive. Readers should be able to quickly understand the layout of the report and be able to click or stroll to the information that is most material to them.
Because different stakeholders will be concerned with different issues, consider adding an executive summary to the top of your report. This will be helpful for those who want a big picture view. Make it printable for their convenience.
Ideally, your report will be delivered in an online format. If nobody is reading your CSR report, it may not be because the information doesn't matter to them. It could be the format. A 60 page PDF document that's 90% text is certainly not going to keep the attention of many people for long. On the other hand, an interactive document with a clickable table of contents, graphics, and with the more detailed data kept in appendices is going to be much less intimidating. Readers will be much more likely to engage with your report if they think it is readable, and if they can find the information that interests them quickly and easily.
INCLUDE CONTACT INFORMATION
Your company should have a designated point of contact for questions or concerns about sustainability issues. Include this contact information in a conspicuous place near the top of your report. This will assure readers that someone is available to address their concerns.
A SAMPLE OUTLINE
To demonstrate what an engaging CSR report might look like, here’s a brief outline.
- Executive Summary
- Contact Information
- Table of Contents:
- Links to Key Sustainability Issues Addressed
- Links to Data in Appendices
- Key Sustainability Issue (as many as needed)
- Description of Issue With Relevance
- List of Goals
- Description of Benchmarks And Measurements
- Statement of Progress
- Discussion of Roadblocks
- Plan of Action
- Graphics And Other Visuals
- Link to Appendix With Further Details
- Closing Statement
By working from an outline like this, you ensure that your report is structured in a way that is consistent and easy to read. It also provides an easy way for readers to navigate directly to the information that interests them most.
If your CSR report isn’t getting the engagement it should, the solution isn’t to ditch the report entirely. Instead, you should re-imagine your report with the needs of your target audience in mind. Provide your stakeholders with a report that is relevant to them and easy to read. This will lead to increased engagement, and ensure your audience that your corporate responsibility statement isn’t just lip service.