What’s the Difference Between CSR and CSA — and Why Should I Care?

 Interested in how to measure CSR? See this page for a guide to our coverage.

Corporate social responsibility and corporate social advocacy (CSR and CSA) are two similar but different strategies that organizations use to enhance their reputations and brand images by doing good or investing in social causes. They have become common of late, and this issue of The Measurement Advisor is about how to measure them. Let’s take a closer look:

Corporate social responsibility

CSR has been around for more than three decades. Essentially, a lot of former hippies grew up, started companies, and decided to use the power of those companies to try fulfill some of the hopes and dreams they had back in the ‘70s. Folks like Ben & Jerry, of ice cream fame; Tom Chappell, founder of Tom’s of Maine; and Anita Ruddock, founder of The Body Shop, all were idealistic entrepreneurs who managed to do very well by doing good.

Over time the concept spread, and the notion that you could win more customers if you stood for something other than corporate greed became part of everyday corporate culture. Indra Nooyi at PepsiCo famously embraced Performance with Purpose, pledging to be responsive to the needs of the world around her. She then watched the company’s profits and market share rise. Benno Dorer took the reins of Clorox pledging to make it the “Sustainable Growth” company and saw similar results.

Today, the marketplace simply expects you to have a CSR strategy. Prospective employees, customers, and investors shun companies that don’t.

Such strategies typically involve not just environmental responsibility but also cultural diversity and inclusion as well as ethics and community outreach. All of which are social change efforts that most people can agree on.

Research shows that consumers will readily pay a bit more for products or services from a company that they believe has good values as well as good practices. According to the 2018 Porter Novelli/Cone Purpose Premium Index, 89% would switch to a brand that is associated with a good cause, given similar price and quality—up from 66% in 1993. 87% said they’d be more likely to trust a company that supports a social or environment issue, and 88% would be more loyal.

Corporate social advocacy

CSA, on the other hand, is generally lead by the CEO and tends to involve far more controversial issues. Think Nike’s support of Colin Kaepernick, or Chick-fil-A’s anti-LGBT stance. But, similar to the manner in which CSR became normalized, such advocacy is now increasingly expected, particularly among the talent pool that most organizations are trying to recruit.

According to the 2019 Porter Novelli/Cone Gen Z Purpose Study, 90% of Gen Z-ers believe companies must act to help social and environmental issues, and 75% will do research to see if a company is being honest when it takes a stand on issues.

Which is why so many CEOs are jumping on the CSA bandwagon. Think Ed Stack, CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods, announcing a variety of gun control measures including stopping the sale of assault-style weapons in his stores. Or the various CEOs that came out against bathroom bills in Indiana and North Carolina. The latest example is David MacNeil, founder of Weathertech, maker of cell phone cup holders and other automotive products. He spent $6 million to run an ad during the Super Bowl in support of the vets at University of Wisconsin School of Medicine who saved his dog from cancer.

Elsewhere in this issue we’ll discuss what constitutes an effective CSA strategy (see “The Right Way to Do Corporate Social Advocacy—and Measure Its Impact”). The bottom line is that in order to survive in a competitive market—whether you’re selling floor mats or trying to recruit the best and brightest—you need to embrace both CSA and CSR. ∞

Image thanks to Jon Bunting on Flickr.

About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.