2021 Rocket Social/ACCP Research: Impact of COVID-19 and the Racial Justice Movement on CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility, Guest Author, Reports & Reviews

It’s been 18 months and the global pandemic, alongside deep social and political unrest, remains central in the daily lives of most people around the world. Recently, Realized Worth had the opportunity to speak with the CEO of ACCP about their research on the impact of COVID-19 and the racial justice movement on corporate social responsibility. What we learned was encouraging! There is much work to do but, slowly, companies are taking greater responsibility for their power and influence and contributing to positive change around the world. Read below and see for yourself. We hope you’ll be encouraged, too!

If you’re uncertain how you can help your company affect positive change, please contact Realized Worth to brainstorm solutions.

Q&A with ACCP President and CEO Carolyn Berkowitz

Tell us a little about yourself and about ACCP.

I am proud to be the President and CEO of the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), the membership organization for purpose-driven companies and a career long resource for their CSR professionals. We have more than 220 member companies of all industries and sizes, often with their full teams engaged. Our members gain access to a community of peers passionate about social impact, and we share practical learning and resources to help all CSR professionals be more impactful. No two days are ever alike, which I love about this role and our field.

Prior to my time at ACCP, I spearheaded community affairs at Capital One, and served in senior leadership roles at America’s Promise and the Points of Light.

My husband and I live in the Fairfax, VA and we have a grown daughter and son who we’re so proud of.  Both, by the way, have related careers in social impact and public affairs.

You recently partnered with Rocket Social Impact for research on how COVID-19 and the racial justice movement impacted corporate social responsibility across sectors. Tell us a little about what motivated you to conduct this research?

We knew from conversations with our members that the pandemic, the economic downturn, and the reckoning with racial inequity were transforming CSR. Companies stepped up in 2020 to address immediate needs in their communities and their workforce. But we also heard that many companies were reconsidering or adjusting their long-term priorities and processes, as well. We wanted a clearer understanding of the shifts and what they might mean for the future.

What were the most significant trends you found in the survey results? Which ones do you think will have long-term effects?

The big story coming out of the survey is how companies are incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion into both the way they approach their CSR work and the work they choose to do. Many of the long-term shifts are directly related to the racial justice movement, with 64% shifting or adding a racial justice/equity focus and more than half (53%) funding new nonprofits with a racial-equity mission.

Others are responding to related issues of inequity like distributing the COVID-19 vaccine (25%) and addressing food insecurity (20%) as new long-term priorities.

Regarding this trend, how else are companies responding to the emphasis on racial equity and DEI as both employees and consumers expectations around these issues grow?

The study also found that 62% added a racial equity lens to their funding decisions while remaining within their current focus areas, e.g., specifically addressing racial disparities in health, housing, education, etc. One-in-four businesses (24%) are also prioritizing their support for BIPOC-led organizations.

These changes suggest to me that companies will need to understand the racial equity gaps that exist now in their priority issues and be able to clearly demonstrate that their work moving forward is closing these gaps – not just “lifting all boats.” They’ll need to listen to different community voices and extend their networks beyond traditional and established nonprofits if they are to meet expectations.

Carolyn Berkowitz

Carolyn Berkowitz

ACCP President and CEO

We know that ESG and CSR have steadily gained attention from the c-suite, and I suspect even more so this year. What did your research find around that?

Not surprisingly our study does show that the role of corporate responsibility has been elevated, with 52% saying they now have increased visibility with the c-suite and 42% saying that demand for CSR outcome measures is heightened.

An interesting finding is that integration of CSR efforts across the company is gaining steam, and departmental silos are breaking down. 86% of respondents revealed that in the past year they have or have made plans to increase integration with their companies’ DEI, HR, ESG, and/or marketing functions, and many with all four. For many, the impetus comes directly from the c-suite – 51% of company leaders are now demanding increased integration. This is an important inflection point for our function that allows us to address critical issues more holistically.

We believe these trends reflect the growing acknowledgement that corporate social responsibility is integral to the overarching business strategy.

In terms of resources – what did the survey show? Will corporations invest more dollars in the community? Will we see corporations adding CSR headcount? 

Nearly half (47%) of the respondents indicated that their funding budgets have increased, which is good news. 36% of budgets remained flat, and 14% are experiencing a decrease. However, from a staffing perspective only 15% of companies say their CSR team has grown, and for 77%, CSR headcount remains flat.

What this tells us, unfortunately, is that despite the increasing visibility of the function and demand to measure, integrate, and implement new strategies, most CSR functions remain under-resourced.

But I’m an optimist. Putting out this kind of research and talking about it with influencers like you will help spread the word. I think we’ll see increased resources in the years to come.

Click here to read the full Rocket Social/ACCP Research

Carolyn Berkowitz

Carolyn Berkowitz joined ACCP as President and CEO in July 2018. She is a nationally recognized corporate social impact leader who has guided nonprofits, foundations, and Fortune 500 companies to solve for complex social issues and realize their greatest impact. Under her leadership, ACCP has grown its corporate membership by 20% and introduced new programs, research, and partnerships for corporate citizenship professionals on topics including racial equity, ESG, and benchmarking.

Prior to joining ACCP, Carolyn led Capital One’s community affairs efforts, spear-heading the company’s effort to re-imagine its CSR strategy with a $450 million, 10-year strategy to prepare low- and moderate-income people for future success. Prior to her work with Capital One, Carolyn served on the senior leadership teams of America’s Promise, Points of Light Foundation, and the American Association for Adult and Continuing Education.


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