12 Ways to Convince Your Boss to Add Social Responsibility

Once you understand that a social mission is an incredible asset for your business your first question is usually “Where do I start?” Many of the pieces I write focus on what an entrepreneur or CEO should consider when building a social mission. But if you are an employee looking to implement from within, your first question might be “How do I convince my boss?”

Before tactics, I want to share a story you can cue for inspiration as you sit across from your boss and share your vision of a stronger company. A sales director named Joyce LaValle left a copy of Paul Hawken’s The Ecology of Commerce on her CEO’s desk, which led to a complete transformation of the company, as well as the industrial carpet industry. Joyce’s daughter encouraged her mom to get the book into Interface CEO Ray Anderson’s hands. After several attempts, it landed–ultimately leading to Interface’s pledge of zero waste by 2020. This was 1994 when Ray was struggling to address his organization’s environmental policies. Carpet manufacturers were criminal polluters and resource hogs. Today, Interface is well on the way toward its goal and has eliminated hundreds of millions of dollars in waste, as well as increased sales by more than $1 billion. Sixteen years later, Joyce heads the marketing for InterfaceFLOR and continues to be tapped for inspiration by people like you and me.

Convince your boss to add a cause-oriented program by:

  1. Painting a picture of company growth. Consumers prefer companies that make a positive impact on the world.  Two out of three consumers will switch brands if one works with ’good causes’ and the other does not (Edelman, 2009).
  2. Starting out small. Create a program around one sales cycle, holiday or company event; organize an employee volunteer day; sponsor and participate in a fundraising event in the community like a walk or run; switch your office supplies to sustainable products, start a work compost and continue to recycle; research and present SRI investment options for employees.
  3. Illustrating that it doesn’t take money. Doing good is not about an extra line in the budget. Supporting community events by volunteering or providing in-kind donations or publicity does not take money. Switching to sustainable office supplies and composting does not take money (really–Give Something Back, Office Depot and others offer competitive pricing). Offering responsible investment plans does not take money. Supporting a non-profit’s point-of-sale program does not take money. A small retailer in the Boston area, Ocean State Job Lot, raised $212,000 for Boston Medical Center in one month by asking customers if they’d like to make a contribution.
  4. Coming to the discussion with suggestions of causes or groups that connect to the company and its customers. Maker of natural beauty products, Burt’s Bees naturally supports conservation and sustainability. Pedigree supports animal welfare.
  5. Mobilizing internal support. What do other employees care about? What scale of project does their enthusiasm support? Gauge enthusiasm and build support or even an informal team of peers.
  6. Sharing success stories from other companies (start with Joyce LaValle). Find more stories from entrepreneurs here.
  7. Presenting a list of resources. Point to resources from which the company can draw support for its new initiatives (students or professors of a local sustainability program and umbrella organizations and networking sites like Business for Social Responsibility, Social Venture Network, B Corporation, Net Impact or SCORE).
  8. Pitching it as a recruitment and retention tool. Readers of this blog know that Patagonia receives more than 900 applications for every open position because of its social mission. People want to work for employees that care and a social cause is indicative of a favorable workplace.
  9. Telling her why she will be respected for her efforts (and possibly famous). Ray Anderson is a paragon in industrial manufacturing, capitalism and sustainability. He didn’t need to have a sexy company that produced vegan shoes or mountain-climbing gear to make an impact. He started with what he produced and what he wasted.
  10. Asking her what she thinks. Listen to her reservations and strategize with her about how to overcome them.
  11. Offering to support or to lead. Depending on her level of enthusiasm or hesitancy you can take a supporting role through your work and and actions or a leadership role by developing a plan and strategy.
  12. Being willing to take the fall. Stupendously disastrously executed programs fail. Programs from which we learn and improve, do not. Letting your boss know that you are willing to take the fall alleviates pressure and enforces your commitment to a social mission.

Have you pitched a social program to your boss?  What other tactics have you used or do you feel would be helpful?  If you’re a boss, who leads these efforts in your organization?  Do they come from you or someone higher up or more junior?

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  1. Andrea Learned February 16, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Helping internal change agents stay motivated is a worthy cause in itself, so thanks for writing this. And, point #9 is a very good one to note. In my marketing to women work, it was always MOST rewarding to convert really traditional business thinkers. When stereotypically male-friendly Lowes and Home Depot started focusing on women, for instance, it was a lot more powerful both in terms of consumer response and media coverage. The same will go for my work in social responsibility and sustainability. The most skeptical will be the hardest but most productive to convert in terms of the overall “movement.” The fact is, the first mover in any big and stereotypically “traditional” industry-as was the case for Anderson/Interface- will win big both with consumers who are expecting it and with press who are DYING to report on such stories.

  2. Ian Aspin February 16, 2010 at 7:17 pm #

    Hiya Olivia,

    Thanks for this post and for your inspiring blog.

    Great to see the Joyce LaValle and Ray Andeson story.

    It can be kinda tough getting world-changing ideas adopted when you’re working, without significant power, in traditional organisations that are just not used to re-thinking “how” and “why” they do things.

    I admire people of vision who have the patience and skill to cleverly make a difference in these contexts. After all, there are far more of these types of businesses than sustainable ones right now!

    Anyway, thanks again for all your inspiring work on Cause Capitalism.

    All the best and much love,


  3. admin February 17, 2010 at 11:09 am #

    Andrea: thanks for sharing your work and what’s been the most rewarding. I’m not aware of the Lowes and Home Depot campaigns targeting women–sounds interesting. Why do think it is that the most skeptical are ultimately the most productive in building momentum for a movement? Is it because they become avid converts or because their traditional background gives them a stage in front of a different audience/group of thinkers?

    Ian: You’re so right. I should add as point 13 “Willingness to be patient.” Likely our victories will be smaller in reality than what we set out to do, but they add up and compound. It can be very difficult work to incite change from the inside–but what choice do we have? Thanks for your support.