Cut your CSR Budget and still Get the Work Done!

I was having a coffee recently with someone working in oil and gas in Calgary. “These jobs are not coming back,” he said of the thousands of people who landed on the street in the last few months.

“Especially these jobs in CSR.” That’s when I chocked on my coffee (it was actually a green tea, I’m trying, again, to cut off the dark stuff).

In his mind, even if the price of a barrel of oil gets back to 100 bucks, there is no way companies will have CSR departments staffed to the level they were just one year ago.

So what does that mean? In an era where “Social Licence to Operate” demands attention to people impacted by business operations, where are the new and upcoming development projects heading in this country?

Social impacts are no going to diminish. If anything they will increase. And it’s not just the pipelines, mines, oil and gas projects. Wind turbines have had their fair share of push-back from people concerned about the amount of land and airspace, (and even the aesthetics) they take up. Solar farms can take up a lot of real estate as well.

It’s understandable that when budgets are tight companies look at where they can cut capital expenditures. Spending the way we did cannot go on.

Every business expense is under scrutiny and that is particularly so for CSR programs if the expense line isn’t offset by a revenue line. But it makes no sense for companies that spent a lot of time and effort investing in communities and causes that matter to them to cut out everything.  A well-managed strategy actually helps companies save money. But they have to take the time to assess how CSR can be used to reduce risks and increase opportunities.

How do you know when your CSR programs are aligned with your business objectives? I’m glad you asked that question!  Three quick questions to find the answer are:

  1. Does our Community Investment program support causes and charities that are relevant to our business management, future plans and our operations; and are we confident that we can rely on the support of community influencers?
  2. Do we really know our stakeholders (not just our shareholders) and how we are impacting (or have the potential to impact) them and how they are impacting (or have the potential to impact) us?
  3. Can we confidently say that our organization has earned its social license to operate?

If you can say “yes” to all three questions, then congratulations, you have (at least the beginnings of) an effective CSR program! But how do you move forward when the CSR budget just got cut in half? It has been reported time and time again that there is very little correlation between how much you spend on Community Investment and the benefits you get from them (Have a read of the chapter on Community project in the book Getting it Right by Zandvliet & Anderson on that topic).

If staff has been cut from the CSR team, this probably means your remaining people have double (or triple) duty: that’s a lot of extra stress and less opportunities to actually do the work.


A great way to alleviate your stress and save money is to outsource the ‘boring bits’ such as program administration – leaving you to make well-informed decisions. Outside help from CSR experts can cost less than one third of the expense of a full time employee. An independent, expert, eye can also help keep a focus on the CSR strategy.


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