There has been a lot of talk in the CSR space about millennials and attracting them to your brand. The prevailing theory is that millennials expect the brands they support to have a CSR program. Unfortunately, there has been very little justification offered for this claim, typically a superficial stat about how people prefer companies with a CSR program over ones without. Who wouldn't?
Yet if this were true, that CSR is important to attracting millennials, it would seem to follow that many of the companies that were founded or run by millennials would prominently feature their CSR efforts. They do not, in fact, it is hard to find any mention of their CSR programs existing at all.
If CSR is so important to attracting millennials why is it that young companies known for innovation don't have strong (if any) programs?
Consider companies like Facebook, Instagram, or Box, all founded by millennials. Facebook does not list any CSR programs on their corporate website. If you search through Facebook itself, they launched two Facebook Pages to help promote nonprofits and social causes: Green on Facebook and Non-Profits on Facebook, yet these are more of a resource for Facebook users to rally around a cause. Further, Zuckerberg's recent philanthropy announcement was personal, not an initiative by the company. With Instagram, it’s more of the same. They enable users to share their causes with the world digitally, while lacking a brand strategy of their own around corporate social responsibility.
Box is arguably one of the best, they run box.org which donates accounts for non-profits. At best, this program helps build capacity at these organizations but falls short of helping the non-profit achieve their programmatic goals. Storing files in the cloud is not the primary issue they face.
Looking at the companies that weren’t founded by millennials but purposely attract and keep millennials as employees shows a similar situation. These 'millennial farms', even if run by more senior management, don't have CSR programs either. For example, HubSpot's culture, now made famous by Dan Lyons' book Disrupted, is all about employing the millennial, yet they have no CSR programs indicated on their corporate website.
While Lyons' book comes off as a harsh criticism of HubSpot by a grumpy old man, there is perhaps one insight on millennials he offers. “Believing that your company is not just about making money, that there is a meaning and a purpose to what you do, that your company has a mission, and that you want to be part of that mission—that is a big prerequisite for working at one of these places,” said Lyons in a recent Fortune article. The millennial wants something to believe in. They crave it and need it. The Facebooks, HubSpots, Boxes, etc. of the world embed this into the company mission. They're 'disrupting' social media or marketing or business. That's how they're 'changing the world'. That's the attraction for the millennial. It is something to believe in. There is no need for a CSR program.
In contrast, big established brands don't necessarily have that. They're often the ones getting disrupted. So they rely on CSR to give that appeal to millennials. Despite being an airline or a bottler or a grocery store, they're on a mission with their CSR program to change the world. Now that's actually something to believe in.
The key is to build your CSR program to align with your business goals and support your mission to change the world, not to make millennials happy. If you build a genuine CSR program to believe in, millennials will come along.
And oh yeah, Silicon Valley, wake up!
Scott brings vast experience as a marketing, operations and analytics expert. As VP of Marketing, Versaic he focuses on campaign strategy and analysis for digital, social, content and lead funnel management. His previous work has included cloud and marketing consultations and speaking opportunities around marketing analytics, operations, automation and strategy.