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Corporate Social Responsibility Done Right: 5 Ways to Help Your Company Shine Entrepreneurs can enlist employees, customers and other partners when it comes time to offer programs that give back to the community.

By Lain Hensley Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Corporate social responsibility used to be a bolt-on afterthought for many companies. Firms would budget some leftover funding for charity, make some end-of-year donations or schedule volunteer time for their employees and check the corporate social responsibility box.

Today, thanks to a 24/7 digital connection between customer and company, empowered consumers are demanding more from the corporate world. Companies are responding in a variety of different ways as they operate in this new landscape where they are expected to be more transparent, communicative and hands-on in trying to make the world a better place.

Related: The Power of Giving Back: How Community Involvement Can Boost Your Bottom Line

Here are five ways that entrepreneurs can try to develop authentic and powerful corporate social responsibility programs:

1. Crowdsource ideas. A top-down, command-and-control type of company hierarchy is a bad match for inspiring a truly vibrant corporate social responsibility program. Use digital tools to engage employees in the idea-generation process. Ask them what they want the company to take on to give back to the community.

Then use those ideas to create a corporate social responsibility culture that is more inclusive, democratic and participatory.

After interviewing 216 executives at Fortune 200 companies, Weber Shandwick and KRC Research found that 44 percent had used crowdsourcing to generate ideas for the company's social responsibility programming and 95 percent who had tried it found it valuable.

2. Enlist customers. Customers expect companies to carry their weight when it comes to social responsibility. When a company aligns its mission with corporate social responsibility (think of Patagonia's 1% for the Planet or Danone Yogurt's project targeting nutritional deficiencies in Bangladesh), customers and business partners are much more likely to jump on board.

Make sure your company puts its money where its mouth is. Then don't be afraid to ask others to join your cause. Use social media, email newsletters and blog posts to generate interest and gather support.

Related: How to Run a Socially Responsible Business That's Not Phony

3. Partner with other organizations. Social enterprises like my company Odyssey Teams and nonprofits are using aggressive business models to tackle a host of problems.

Corporations leery of building and staffing an entire corporate social responsibility program can seek partnerships with organizations aligned with their company's mission. The partnership may generate more on-the-ground results and goodwill than a company's corporate social responsibility program built from scratch.

4. Combine philanthropy and corporate training. Corporate social responsibility should be woven into your company's fabric. Inject philanthropy into corporate events and training. Make it an integral part of how the company operates, learns and grows.

Building empathy, collaborating on charitable projects and connecting to those in need can offer employees valuable business lessons and help create a strong corporate culture. Make philanthropy a way of life for your company. Don't miss the opportunity to give and grow at the same time.

5. Create something that lasts. Some corporate social programs have encountered skepticism and the perception that the efforts are one-offs. Customers can tell when a company is simply cutting a check and not fully invested in a program. Impress your customers by creating a self-sustaining social responsibility program that is designed to make significant social change over an extended period of time.

Related: A Sustainable Social Enterprise Takes Business Savvy, and Heaps of Passion

Lain Hensley

Odyssey Teams COO

Lain Hensley is the co-founder and chief operating officer of Odyssey Teams, which develops philanthropic team-building programs for large corporations: the prosthetic hand-building program Helping Hands and the bicycle-building event LifeCycles. He is an inspirational speaker and corporate trainer with an eye for introducing organizational change. 

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