By Catherine Hernandez-Blades
In any neighborhood, there is usually a special person—the one everybody seems to know and admire. It is that neighbor with an exceptionally kind and generous heart who always checks on the elderly widow living alone or who is the first one to arrive with jumper cables when you are sitting in your driveway trying to bring a dead car battery back to life. Maybe he or she coaches a team at the high school, volunteers at the food pantry and still finds time to sell raffle tickets for the charity fundraiser.
Everyday heroes like these inspire us on a personal level to care for one another and give back to our communities, but they can also be role models in our business and professional lives. April marks National Community Service Month, so it is a good time to ask ourselves: Is my company the much-admired neighbor on our block? Do our customers, employees and communities see us as generous, ethical and socially responsible? And if not, what steps would we need to take to earn that kind of reputation and respect?
The Evolving World of CSR
Today, companies of all kinds view their commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a key business priority. An impressive 77 percent of business and human resources leaders rated corporate citizenship as important in a recent study by Deloitte.¹ The CSR umbrella covers not only community service and charitable giving, but also a wide range of criteria for how companies conduct their operations, including sustainability and helping to care for the environment, treating employees with respect and governing their business ethically. In fact, socially conscious investors are using this set of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria as a way to determine where to invest their money.
Given this landscape brokers and agents should be conversant in the language of CSR and understand its relevance to clients. Even more importantly, it is time to leverage the power of CSR for your own business to build a reputation that strengthens customer relationships and drives long-term sales success.
The Value of Giving Back
Generous people often say that they get back many times more than what they give – that the joy of helping others makes their own lives richer. Research even suggests that doing good can have a positive effect on one’s health. A recent study by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that adults age 55 and older who are active volunteers in national programs report much higher health scores than adults in similar circumstances who do not volunteer.²
The concept of getting back more than one gives holds true in the business world, as well. A robust CSR program can help improve a company’s well-being, even smaller businesses like those many brokers and agents operate. Practicing social responsibility helps strengthen your brand, expand your business network, build trust with customers and attract employees who want to work for a company they admire. And the numbers do not lie:
- Reputation Institute notes that nearly 52 percent of a business’ reputation is based on not only the importance of its products and services, but its public perception as ethical, fair and having a positive influence on society.³
- For 87 percent of consumers, their purchasing decisions are based on whether a company advocated for an issue they care about.4
- According to Aflac’s 2018 CSR Survey, 69 percent of employees and 80 percent of human resources managers believe it is extremely or very important to act socially responsible.5
So, how can brokers and agents get started on a CSR program? The good news is that you can scale your effort to fit your circumstances. Take a look first at the community-minded causes and charitable activities you already support, whether it is sponsoring the little league or walking with your colleagues in the annual heart or cancer walk. Is there a way you can build on those efforts? Perhaps volunteer to serve on a committee for next year’s walk, which will help you build new relationships in your business community and raise your profile. Or consider organizing a sports safety clinic for the little league participants, a subject that may be in your wheelhouse as an insurance professional.
For your CSR efforts to be most successful, it is important to choose a cause that connects in some way to your business and is sustainable for the long haul. For example, Aflac’s pioneering work in cancer insurance led us to a long-term commitment to support childhood cancer research and treatment. Over the last 24 years, the company has donated more than $131 million to this cause, and independent agents licensed to sell Aflac products have donated more than $500,000 each month from their commission checks. It’s authentic and that’s what’s most important.
Wherever you choose to focus your CSR efforts, make sure to communicate what you are doing to all of the stakeholders who matter to you, including current and prospective customers. It can be as simple as posting a photo from one of your sponsored activities on social media, or sending out a press release to local newspapers and trade publications. To help with that kind of public relations outreach, some insurers like Aflac provide a toolkit to help agents and brokers share good news about CSR programs.
By taking these first steps and making a commitment to CSR, you can start to build the same kind of esteemed reputation as that kind and generous neighbor everyone admires. As you grow your reputation, it is reasonable to surmise you’ll also find a sustainable path to increased sales and long-term success.
Catherine Hernandez-Blades is senior vice president, chief environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and communications officer at Aflac. She is responsible for corporate affairs activities for the company, including the Aflac’s Global SABRE award-winning corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.
¹ Deloitte. “2018 Global Human Capital Trends.” Page 57. Accessed March 14, 2019. https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/insights/us/articles/HCTrends2018/2018-HCtrends_Rise-of-the-social-enterprise.pdf.
² Corporation for National and Community Service. Press release: “Volunteering Helps Keep Seniors Healthy, New Study Suggests.” Accessed March 14, 2019. https://www.nationalservice.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2019/volunteering-helps-keep-seniors-healthy-new-study-suggests.
³ Reputation Institute. Press Release: “Most Reputable Companies in the United States in 2018.” Accessed March 14, 2019. https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/2963875/_PDF/PressReleases/2018-US-RepTrak-PressRelease-updated.pdf?t=1524497004680.
⁴ Cone Communications. “2017 Cone Communications CSR Study.” Accessed March 14, 2019. http://www.conecomm.com/research-blog/2017-csr-study#download-the-research.
⁵ Aflac 2018 CSR Survey. Page 12. Accessed March 14, 2019. http://www.aflac.com/ACSR.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a solicitation. Aflac herein means American Family Life Assurance Company of Columbus and/or American Family Life Assurance Company of New York. Aflac WWHQ | 1932 Wynnton Road | Columbus, GA 31999