Three Tips for Building Your Career in CSR
After 30+ years working for two large corporations, Allstate and Dell, I recently made a big jump to a much smaller company, YourCause. My new role in sales is completely new to me. And it’s not the first time I’ve made what some might say was an unconventional move.
In 2008, after 20 years in operations, HR, and diversity, I switched into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) with a role on Dell’s giving team. My main function was to help with Dell’s transition from foundation giving (primarily US-based) to corporate giving, with an emphasis on taking our programs global. This was a pretty big change from managing Dell’s diversity team. It was also a significant contrast to my prior experience in learning and development. But for me, it was part of a pattern that started early in my career: a willingness—an enthusiasm, even—for moving laterally or even stepping back from management roles to enter a new discipline that intrigued me and would broaden my range of knowledge.
So now, after 15 years at Dell, with half of those leading Dell Giving, I’m leaping into my newest challenge as a member of the sales team at YourCause. The opportunity to understand how giving and employee engagement is implemented at different companies, to help others start new giving programs, and to help take existing programs to the next level—all with the YourCause platform—has me incredibly excited.
Over the years I’ve had many one-on-one conversations about how to build a career in CSR and what the sequence of steps looks like. While many career paths will likely be different from mine, the things I’ve learned are helpful to share:
1 – Let Go of Expectations
Let go of any expectation of there being one generally accepted or “right” CSR career path. What has been most helpful to me is knowing what I’m good at and what I value each step along the way. Keep in mind that your journey—even within the CSR field—can take many turns over the course of your career. Here are a few tips to better understand yourself and in turn help you let go of expectations:
- Know your skills and competencies. Whether you leverage feedback from managers and colleagues, or from a tool like StrengthsFinder, get clear where your talents lie and play to them. You need to be aware of your opportunities for growth and acquiring new skills, but don’t get bogged down by these. It’s more energizing and more impactful to be in your sweet spot as much as you can.
- Know that what you value, and what matters most to you, may change over the course of your career. Whether it’s family obligations, a location that you long to be in, or other interests outside work, it’s OK—and I think best—to balance personal and career choices over time. Don’t worry that you may not make the best career move at any given juncture. If it’s best for you overall, it will work out for the best in time.
- Consider a role with an organization that shares your values or that provides the right professional development experiences, even if it may not be a perfect fit immediately. Such a role will get you where you want to go and is all part of the journey.
2 – Understand Trends
While you are developing an in-depth knowledge of CSR in the company you work for, be sure you stay abreast of changing practices and emerging trends in the field. Here are some tools to get that done:
- Leverage information feeds and forums in the CSR marketplace. Here’s a list of various resources for you to explore:
- Read annual CSR reports to gain insights on companies’ CSR strategies and to get a picture of the various types of programs companies engage in. Check out these examples from Dell and AT&T.
- And don’t miss out on our own great YourCause Resource Library, containing industry reports, case studies, whitepapers, and infographics.
3 – Grow and develop a network of friends in the CSR field
Make a list of people you admire (and whose jobs you covet!), both in your local community and in the broader CSR profession. Start with those to whom you have a connection and set up informational chats. Here are some tips to making the most of these meetings:
- Be clear about your intent for the meeting, and keep the meeting short—usually 30 minutes is best.
- Be able to clearly and quickly summarize your career to date, as well as your aspirations.
- End the meeting by asking for the names of one or two other CSR professionals who may provide insight.
- Send a brief thank you note and keep in touch to cultivate the relationship over time.
- Engage with organizations that connect to the CSR space. Find out about conferences and events in your area, and take advantage of opportunities to network with people in the field.
- Of course, leverage LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social media mediums.
Finally, don’t underestimate the value of any previous business knowledge you may have, including the non-CSR experience. What you bring to the table from the outside can positively influence your CSR career. Corporate Social Responsibility is most effective when social interests and business goals align, so bring your previous experience to bear. It will help you gain a 360-degree perspective and see things from the point of view of everyone involved.