Attract Millennial talent with social responsibility

Long-term, sincere commitment pays dividends across and beyond your organization.
By Lauren Clemmer

Why do people join your firm?

Knowing the answer to this question is important, especially for firms that find themselves short-staffed. Millennials look for different incentives from potential employers compared to other generations, and adapting to their needs is essential to recruiting and retaining top staff in today's competitive job market.

Start by considering social responsibility. Think about what your firm does for its community—and the opportunities you offer young team members to give back and volunteer for causes they are passionate about.

Millennials, who have a growing influence within firms and, according to the Brookings Institution, are expected to dominate the workforce by 2025, are incredibly passionate about community service and engagement. As a result, they want to work for organizations that are good corporate citizens. That's one reason the Association for Accounting Marketing (AAM) identified "the power of philanthropy" as one of its top trends to watch this year.

"Younger people were raised with the idea that they should give back," said Mari-Anne Kehler, chief marketing and strategy officer at accounting firm Green Hasson Janks in Los Angeles. "While community service has been around for a long time, it's now fundamental to the development and retention of a solid workforce."

Many Millennials are cause-driven, said Susie Brown, AAM board member and marketing coordinator at Detroit-based accounting firm Clayton & McKervey. "Millennials get involved with corporate philanthropy because they want to be part of something that's bigger than themselves—and that something needs to impact the community in which they live," she said.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a term that many companies use to describe their philanthropy efforts. According to the widely accepted definition coined by professors Abagail McWilliams and Donald Siegel, CSR is "actions that appear to further some social good, beyond the interests of the firm and that which is required by law." CSR has evolved into a business model used to attract and retain stakeholders. Customers, employees, and others who interact with a company are more engaged if they know it is involved in social causes.

Here are considerations for deploying and improving a CSR program:

1. Develop a long-term strategy

CSR is not a one-off community service event. "To have a positive impact on a firm's brand, philanthropy needs to be part of a strategic, systematic approach," Kehler said. "You have to demonstrate your investment in people to clients and staff who are craving this kind of purpose."

2. Support your team

"Generally speaking, the one magic piece of CSR is that you culturally have to care about giving back and genuinely support people doing it," Kehler said. Green Hasson Janks gives awards to team members who have given the most hours back to the community. In addition, the firm supports causes team members care about through a matching dollar program.

3. Bolster your culture

Millennials' charitable interests are bringing about change in the workplace, the 2015 Millennial Impact Report found, which can have a positive effective on an organization's culture. "Millennials want to know that firm leadership cares about more than just the bottom line," Brown said. "When they see that and can participate in CSR initiatives, an emotional connection can be made. Employees are more engaged, and hopefully, they will stick around."

4. Enhance your recruiting

More than one-third of Millennials researching a company before a job interview looked for its social-cause-related efforts, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report. "Actually, of the Millennials who heard about cause work in the interview, 55% of them said the company's involvement with causes helped persuade them to take the job," the report said. Said Kehler: "On college campuses, we share our philanthropy to paint a clear picture of who we are as a firm. In the absence of sharing, people ask about it."

5. Promote your involvement

Firms that practice corporate philanthropy can see public relations benefits as others recognize they are good corporate citizens. "Have employees wear shirts with the firm's logo on it, and take pictures of them participating in philanthropic activities," said Brown. "Publishing those pictures helps send the message that the firm is out there—and its employees, the community, and clients can see that."

6. Strengthen client relationships

Most firms like to buy from their clients whenever they can; however, that's easier said than done depending on the client's business. You can solidify relationships by leveraging your CSR to support their causes instead. "As a firm, we regularly support causes that are a priority to our many nonprofit clients or align with a for-profit client that has a passion for a cause," Kehler said. "We show our support financially but, more importantly, through volunteerism and pro bono community projects."

7. Receive national recognition

Recognizing the importance of CSR, AAM has started We AAM to Serve, an annual competition to promote and recognize firms' CSR programs. Firms with the most "impactful and creative annual philanthropy efforts," Brown said, were recognized at AAM's annual summit in May. In early 2017, firms can submit their 2016 efforts for consideration.

8. Grow your bottom line

The benefits can extend to the bottom line. A recent Project ROI study found that CSR can increase sales revenue by up to 20%. Shareholder value and a company's valuation increases over time, as well. "For every dollar invested in community service, a firm can expect to get back $3.50," Kehler said.

Embracing CSR doesn't have to add substantial hard costs for a firm, but it does take resources. In the end, CSR efforts can help improve your brand equity and reputation—making you a top choice for Millennials looking to start and build their careers.

Lauren Clemmer is the executive director of the Association for Accounting Marketing. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.

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