How corporate social responsibility can drive business success

People want to work for companies that care about the greater good

In 2015, corporations across the country donated $18.45 billion to charities, and roughly another $4 billion was raised through workplace giving where employees designated philanthropic contributions directly out of paychecks. That $18.45 billion sounds like a big number, but it constitutes only 5 percent of the total dollars donated. When you consider that 72 percent of dollars donated in 2015 were from individuals, it suggests that businesses can do more.

Monetary donations are often one of the first ways that businesses approach corporate social responsibility (CSR), but that’s just the beginning of an effort which has become more important than ever in driving customer loyalty, employee recruitment, retention and long-term business success.

Research shows that nearly 80 percent of the workforce wants to work for a socially responsible company; and millennials in particular, which make up the largest segment of the American workforce, are seeking out and staying with companies that are proactive and collaborative in their community giving.

Many organizations are keenly aware of these trends: 86 percent of employers surveyed regarding corporate employee engagement believe that “employees expect them to provide opportunities to engage in the community, and 87 percent believe their employees expect them to support causes and issues that matter to those employees.” 

I’m noticing this trend within our own organization as well. During job interviews, for example, the subject of corporate social responsibility comes up more frequently than ever. As the job market tightens, we feel a growing need to be more thoughtful in how we articulate our CSR strategy to better attract and retain the best employees. I’m also aware of a growing expectation from our employees that our company takes a more active role in the community.

So if corporate citizenship is this important to our businesses and our employees (not to mention our communities), why are many organizations still taking a somewhat passive, unplanned approach?  

In reality, the traditional approach to CSR is challenging to implement and maintain. Businesses tend to support a wide variety of causes, all of which are important to the organization, but contributions tend to be ad hoc rather than long-term, and impact is difficult to quantify.

In our case, we always felt good about what we were doing, but in hindsight it’s clear we were missing opportunities to increase our impact as a corporate citizen in a way that would also be good for our bottom-line. You could say that we were still stuck in the mind-set that being a good corporate citizen was “the right thing to do,” for a given associated cost. 

All Copy Products has enjoyed sustained growth over the last decade, but many businesses have not been as fortunate. When CSR is treated as a discretionary expense and there is an economic downturn; businesses cut CSR programs as profits fall.

For community programs that rely on corporate funding to maintain a healthy budget, the effect of ad hoc corporate giving can hamstring their operations and interfere with their ability to help our communities. We know within our own businesses how hard it can be to allocate business resources if our revenues fall short of projections. This is why CSR needs to move from a “give/receive” transaction, where the corporation holds all the control, to a well-coordinated partnership that provides a sustainable benefit to company, community partner, and citizens.

The Community Impact Plan: A more systematic approach to CSR

Community involvement has always been a core tenet of our business, and over time, our organization has been developing a more systematic and deliberate approach to supporting our community.

As I’ve become increasingly aware of the positive effect that being a good corporate citizen can have on employee recruitment, retention, and engagement, I’ve also been observing the growing number of millennials within our workforce. Now that millennials comprise the largest proportion of the national – and local – workforce, it has increased the need for us to think more proactively about ways to adapt and modify our work environment.

For our team, this has included everything from reevaluating our benefits and policies to workspace planning that will appeal to a new generation as we get ready to move into a new state-of-the-art facility in 2017.

At the same time, I was introduced to a methodology our company could use to lay the foundation for a more comprehensive CSR strategy. This methodology addressed two main challenges that I think dissuade many businesses from getting more deeply involved in CSR; the cost and the need for a dedicated resource.    

This methodology was brought to us by Inner City Health Center who had recently become a customer of ours.

Inner City Health Center serves more than 9,000 uninsured and underserved patients per year with medical, dental and behavioral care. The essential nature of their services and consistently high volume of patients at the Denver-based clinic means that a reliable source of supplies, equipment and volunteers are essential to achieving the center’s mission.

What impressed me at the time was that Inner City Health Center didn’t approach me for a donation, sponsorship or a discount on our services as nonprofits so often do; instead they came to me with what they called a Win-Win Partnership opportunity. There are two key elements to the methodology:

Win-Win Partnering: Provides a financial framework for generating the “discretionary dollars” required to sustain the partnership and the shared initiatives within the partnership.

The Community Impact Plan: Provides an organizational framework to intelligently and deliberately invest the “discretionary dollars” in a way where both partners’ needs are met and the benefit to our community is maximized. The Community Impact Plan also promotes a thoughtful approach to the creation, execution, and promotion of joint events, where All Copy Products can provide volunteer support.

As a first of its kind partnership, this model can and should be adopted by more Colorado business leaders to benefit their companies and the community. Corporate partners have the unique opportunity to both save money and increase corporate giving at the same time. Nonprofits gain a new kind of strategic partner, with whom they can budget, plan and make a long-term impact.

We are so excited to be in a partnership with Inner City Health Center because of their positive impact on the health and wellness of Coloradans, and the growing need for quality and affordable health care services in Denver – something that our staff, customers, families and partners can all relate to. Inner City Health Center also shares our interest in helping military veterans receive timely medical services.

As a strategic partner, we’ve invested in understanding the organization’s core beliefs, mission, needs and opportunities, which align nicely with All Copy’s overall community partnership vision; and this year year we expect to contribute more than $35,000. In 2017, our contribution will be close to $60,000, bringing our total financial contribution to Inner City Health Center close to $100,000 in the space of just two years. And the most remarkable thing about our partnership is, due to the program structure; All Copy Products enjoys the same level of financial benefit as Inner City Health Center, not to mention all the other benefits inherent with being a better corporate citizen.

What’s more, our team of 400 provides a pool of volunteers whose support the center can depend on year-round. We’re using our recurring contribution to engage employees, customers and vendors in the program, and encourage volunteerism and ongoing community impact with ICHC.

Getting back to what research tells us: According to Boston College’s Center for Corporate Citizenship (CCC), companies in which corporate citizenship is integrated have two times more access to new markets and two times better employee retention. Our team has built personal ties to Inner City Health Center’s mission and programs, and are now deeply involved in many aspects of the partnership from pure volunteer hours to the sharing of corporate expertise and resources.

After four years of a dedicated program, the CCC says companies see on average nearly a four-fold reduction in employee health care costs. In today’s healthcare system, that’s another serious bottom line benefit that will continue to propel our program forward.

Cyber Grants points out that “Well run CSR programs can act as catalysts that spark donations, volunteerism and advocacy,” and I couldn’t agree more.

We’re seeing the value of those outcomes across Denver every day, but it’s also time to see more. Denver leaders have immense opportunity to step into a more strategic CSR approach and apply the same rigor to their community plan as they do to their profit-making. So I invite my fellow CEOs who are, as I was, putting off taking a more proactive approach to CSR to reach out to me.  I would be happy to share with you how win-win partnering provided a framework to more easily develop and implement a CSR strategy, and how dollars generated by this program are being used to fund our Community Impact Plan.


Brad Knepper is president of Denver-based All Copy Products, a national provider of digital office equipment and managed IT services, workflow solutions and document management. They have served Colorado and businesses around the nation for more than 40 years, and employ more than 400 across Colorado. Find the team at,, and

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