Beyond the Borders: Challenges and Opportunities with Global CSR

Katie Dunlap July 24, 2018 Employee Engagement

We live in a hyperconnected world. On any day, you can start by talking with a coworker across the hall and finish on a video chat with someone several time zones away. While we have many avenues for worldwide communication, creating global CSR programs that provide the similar engagement opportunities worldwide has proven to be quite the challenge. CSR directors are eager to create the same engagement experience for international employees; follow our roadmap for more tips!


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The Challenges Faced in a Global CSR Program

CSR directors say one of the greatest challenges they run into is creating global programs. Whether it’s defining metrics or detailing the return on investments, international programs introduce an entirely new set of hurdles never faced before, in locations many CSR directors have never been.
The challenges experienced while implementing global CSR programs are characteristically different than ones faced with programs limited to U.S. employees. There are vast cultural barriers that CSR directors may not be experienced in new regions of the world. This will create varying expectations for giving and volunteering, while also make finding reputable nonprofit partners across the globe that are safe to engage with more challenging. Because of these barriers, there isn’t really a one-size fits all global program! However, we can start by establishing a standard framework, allowing for flexibility during and after implementation. Let’s get started!

Standards and Guidelines Ensure Global CSR Effectiveness

By nature, global programs are customized by country/region.  We’ve provided some standards and guidelines that can be established to help directors answer early questions about effectiveness and ROI.  The four traditional metrics used by companies to gather CSR data are:

  1. Total contributions including cash and in-kind donations.
  2. Percentage of employees participating in the company giving and volunteering programs.
  3. The number of volunteer hours logged.
  4. The number of nonprofits impacted through both/either financial contributions and volunteer services.

This is a practical starting point for a global CSR program to track. CECP also mentions looking at total giving as a percent of revenues and total giving per employee. These metrics can be broken out by individual country or compared globally and used to help shape the story of your company’s involvement.
For more research, take a look at our breakdown of ACCP’s “Business of ROI’s Social Investments” Roadmap. This provides further insight into ROI road mapping and can be applied to implementing global and domestic CSR programs.

Key CSR targets

Companies are shying away from the typical CSR model and looking to build their programs around causes. Having specific ‘areas’ of focus allows for more targeted outreach and in-depth reporting. Another tool recently launched by the UN Foundation is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs, officially known as Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is a set of 17 “Global Goals” with established targets for each of the goals. The UN has outlined strategies and provided businesses material in hopes of reaching all 17 by the year 2030, ultimately creating a more sustainable and healthier world.
The SDGs provide clear goals and targets, helping to focus your program’s cause. Start by looking at the mission, values, and business objectives of your company. You will want to pick a cause area that defines what your company and its employees care about.
The key is to set target goals of what you want to achieve in the cause area you want your CSR program to have an impact. This can be done by supporting one or more of the SDGs and reporting on your impact to Agenda 2030. It is important to be authentic, but then be bold and hold yourself accountable.

The Importance of Global Charity Partners

While having nonprofit partners is convenient in the US, it is even more valuable to build strong relationships with global partners when considering creating international CSR programs. Work with global nonprofit partners to define the outcomes you are looking to achieve with your programs. Then involve their organizations in your roadmap as much as possible. Remember to identify and measure specified metrics with your partners so you are both aware of the same trends.


Your cause area is education and the global employees want to serve as volunteer mentors in schools. You can ask for metrics around the number of students involved in the mentoring programs and how those students performed on standardized tests before and after being involved in the volunteer mentoring program. Using your results, you will see if your employees’ commitment impacted student performance.

Balance Quantitative Data with CSR Stories

While statistics are vital to showcasing your company’s CSR involvement, be sure to balance number-heavy content with employee storytelling. In your CSR report, highlight nonprofits and individuals that benefit from your employee engagement programs. Stories will add the color commentary to your report that excites readers and brings your cause to life. These stories demonstrate the difference you are making in a personal, memorable way. 

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Very few companies question the need to report on CSR activities. In fact, most companies and almost all employees see CSR programs as a must-have when applying in today’s job market. Expectations from stakeholders are that companies are involved and will demonstrate how they are making a difference, especially on a global scale. This story can only be told by companies defining metrics and outcomes that are important to their cause, developing strategic systems and necessary tools to gather data in order to communicate global involvement and commitment.