Because businesses big and small are more visible than ever, the power of corporate social responsibility has become larger than life. That feel-good culture of a company and its perception within the community defines an organization beyond its financial success.
Good corporate social responsibility (CSR) is giving back to employees, customers and the community. However, it’s an age-old business practice that doesn’t always get noticed until something goes wrong. CSR stories abound about companies that have endured a social black eye for one reason or another, and social media is there to translate.
CSR is important to brand strategy, a multifamily model that has received more attention as the rental housing industry has flourished.
“It’s essential to how you run business in the 21st century,” says Mark Delisi, who is AvalonBay Communities’ senior director of corporate responsibility.
CSR is no stranger to the business world. For decades, companies have left their mark on the greater good through philanthropic or sustainable investments. Billions of dollars have been given to worthy causes and efforts to provide a better living environment abound.
However, business strategy and social responsibility programs, often considered mutually exclusive within a company, extend beyond a donation or installing LED light bulbs.
Delisi was one of a handful of speakers at November’s National Multifamily Housing Council’s OpTech Conference & Exposition in Las Vegas who discussed how integrating corporate social responsibility into core business operations and strategy can improve can not only improve financial results but help retain employees and residents.
Jen Piccotti, chief operating officer at ManagInc, said corporate responsibility is simply taking care of all the stakeholders in your business—everyone from the maintenance employee who changes light bulbs to community neighbors.
In a recent multifamily corporate social responsibility study, ManagInc noted that there is more to CSR than green initiatives and volunteerism. The workplace, living experience and society are the pillars that support a true CSR strategy.
Here’s a closer look:
The workplace: Employees and suppliers
Panelists agreed that CSR starts at the workplace by building a culture among employees, as well as vendors and suppliers. The actions of onsite personnel and third-party partners speak loudly for the property and management company.
Employee recognition and incentive programs go a long way as does education and career development. Incentives, paid time off and in-house education and paid certification programs are effective ways to build loyalty.
Also, “the way you treat employees is the way you want them to treat your customers,” Piccotti said. She noted that the multifamily employee turnover rate is 32 percent and that it’s important to understand the direct relationship between employees and residents. A 2017 ManagInc study found that the higher the employee turnover, the higher the resident turnover.
CSR also extends to a company’s suppliers and vendors. “If you think of all the suppliers and vendors that come to your property, your residents see that as an extension of you,” she said.
The living experience: Residents
As with employees, resident treatment makes a lasting impression in a property’s CSR pedigree. Responding to online reviews—good or bad—and requesting feedback on satisfaction show residents that a property cares about its reputation and performance.
According to the survey, the multifamily industry is doing a good job there but properties could do better with more in-unit apartment upgrade lease renewal incentive programs, implementing service request guarantees and offering a 30-day move-in satisfaction program.
Society: Giving back for the greater good
Company-organized community service events and providing additional paid time off to allow employees to volunteer or participate in charitable causes enhance CSR efforts, and has impact far beyond simply “doing good.” By providing opportunities to participate, both employees and residents are seeing it as an added benefit of working or living in a particular apartment community.
Delisi said AvalonBay has a national partnership with the American Red Cross and regional relationships with other nonprofit organizations to make strategic local community investments and engage their residents and employees. ”
“Philanthropy done well is no longer about check writing,” said Delisi. “Strategic social investment entails long-term engagements with non-profit partners that promote shared value between the organizations and businesses.”
Piccotti warns, however, that companies that just go through the motions of CSR may not get the results they achieve.
“If it’s not authentic people will see right through it.”