Five Steps for Launching a Social Impact Program


Getting started with social impact work can be challenging, especially if your organization is small (but mighty) and/or new to the space.

Here are five steps your organization can take to launch a successful social impact program.

Step One: Choose a Cause

Begin by assessing your business’s areas of expertise and influence. Consider your company’s unique strengths, then make a list of potential social issues your company could support (look to the UN Sustainable Development Goals for inspiration). Ask yourself:

  • Given your organization’s expertise and resources, what issues can your organization influence?

  • Which social issues or causes does your organization want to align with? Are there any social issues your organization does not want to align with?

Identify staff who can take part in the planning and execution of your organization's social impact work. Make sure that leadership is engaged and available from Day One.

Select an issue or cause that aligns with your core strengths and get to work!

Step Two: Connect

No matter the issue you decide to support, someone is likely already doing great work in that area. So, do your research. A quick Google search should reveal brands, nonprofits, foundations, universities, and/or local organizations that are already making a difference.

Reach out to them for guidance, inspiration, and input. These conversations are invaluable. They can reveal unforeseen challenges and great opportunities you might have not yet considered. (Partnering with another organization is a great way to get started making an impact.)

Step Three: Build

There are many methods your organization can use to support a worthy cause or social issue, from developing an on-the-ground program to creating a strategic giving program to taking a public stand on an issue--many companies employ a thoughtful mix of these approaches.

Here are a few examples of different types of social impact programming.

  • Community programming: TD Bank employees volunteer to provide free financial literacy community workshops to help people understand how to manage money wisely.
  • Grant-making: One prong of the SONOS Listen Better initiative is providing grants to support music education in underserved communities.
  • Integrated Giving: Askov Finlayson is a thoughtful, purpose and social impact-driven outdoor brand that in addition to several other initiatives to support climate change, has pledged to invest more money each year fighting climate change (110%) than running their business impacts the planet.
  • Reduced-rate product or service provision: Salesforce offers a version of their CRM for free to qualified nonprofits who are doing social impact work.
  • Raising Awareness & Activism: Patagonia Bears Ears National Park Initiative is an incredible example of raising awareness on an important issue and providing a streamlined avenue for taking action.

Choose what works best for your organization, and start small. Make a plan with clear, measurable goals. Collect the right data to track the success of your efforts, and set a timeline to reevaluate.

Step Four: Measure & Assess

Take time to reflect on your pilot program. Analyze the data you’ve collected against your original goals, and identify what you did well and what could have gone better. Then, take what you’ve learned to refine your model.

You may be ready to expand your efforts to reach more people and make a larger impact. Or, it may be time to consider a longer term commitment by formalizing your social impact team. Set aside a percentage of time for each team member and/or create a role devoted to social impact to carry the work forward in a thoughtful way.

Step Five: Communicate

The greatest way to maintain momentum is to communicate clearly. Celebrate your organization’s social impact work and be transparent about the internal and external challenges. This step never ends--keep communication open, honest, and constant.

Remember, your first foray into social impact programming is an important new project that is core to your business. Put as much thought into it as you would launching a new product line or service, or building a new team. Be aware of the resources you have to put behind this effort, including staff time, expertise, and expenses. And--keep in mind, this work will be making a positive impact on the community -- no small feat.

Cristina SandovalCSR