Choose your CSR Clients Carefully

Paul KleinFor most consultants, clients are like sex – the less you have the more you want and the lure of short-term gratification often outweighs the benefits of waiting for the right long-term partner.

The playing field in corporate social responsibility has changed considerably. As I wrote last week (6 Criteria for Selecting a CSR Consultant), the number of CSR consultants is skyrocketing but the demand for their services has diminished or at best flat-lined. If you’re a CSR consultant, scoring a big new client will be harder than ever and getting new work could easily put you in a compromising position.

In 2004 in the stone ages of CSR when paying clients were scarce, I was asked to help the Canadian arm of a multinational dairy and food corporation develop a cause-marketing promotion that would be featured on milk cartons. As I was considering how to approach this, news broke of what is now known as “Europe’s ten-billion=euro black hole.” I realized that the company’s interest in cause marketing was likely intended to mitigate its reputational crisis and I decided not to participate. It was difficult to walk away from what could have been a lucrative contract but I made the right decision.

…setting very high standards for whom to work with makes you more attractive to potential clients and is a declaration of your own social purpose.

The experience made me realize how important it is to be discerning about clients. Since then I’ve found that setting very high standards for whom to work with makes you more attractive to potential clients and is a declaration of your own social purpose.

Raising the bar starts with creating a set of principles that can be used as a filter when considering which clients to take on. These principles need to reflect what matters most to your firm and should serve as an ongoing reminder of why you chose to work as a consultant. I thought it would be helpful to share ten principles that we recently developed at Impakt that other consultants can use or adapt as needed.

  1. We will not work for manufacturers of weapons or tobacco.
  2. We will only work with clients who want to be social purpose leaders. (It is not our job to convince corporations to be socially responsible.)
  3. We will only work for corporations that are committed to using their business resources to foster meaningful and measureable social change.
  4. We will only work for NGOs that understand the importance of integrating effective social program development, execution and measurement with fund development.
  5. We will only work with corporations and NGOs that are committed to measuring and reporting on their performance.
  6. We only work with clients if we can make a significant contribution to their business/organizational goals and to the social issues that they address through their operations and their programs.
  7. We will only work with clients who respect our value.
  8. We only work with clients that we like and respect as people.
  9. We only work with clients if we can do great work and have fun.
  10. We love music and bicycles and do particularly good work with clients who feel the same way.

If you’ve been in the position of not having enough work, you know how hard it is to walk away from a new job that will pay the bills. But the first rule of CSR (and of consulting in any other area) is to be true to your own social purpose, and that means only getting in bed with the right partners. It’s painful in the short term but ultimately the best way to attract the clients that are right for you.

I hope the Impakt Principles will be helpful and welcome your feedback and ideas.

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Paul Klein founded Impakt in 2001 to help corporations become social purpose leaders and is considered a pioneer in the areas of corporate social responsibility.  Paul is regularly featured in the media as a corporate social responsibility source, was included in the Globe and Mail’s 2011 Leading Thinkers Series, and was recognized as one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behaviour.  You can follow Paul on twitter at paulatimpakt