The Future of CSR Software: A Buyer’s Guide

Learn how to find the right features to support a new era of corporate giving and employee engagement

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An introduction to the moment

As corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs mature, the technology that powers them needs to mature as well. In 2024, and beyond, CSR professionals will face new pressures, and they need technology that will help them live up to the increased demands. 

Much of the pressure comes from employees and customers. In fact, 76% of employees want their employer to make a positive impact in their communities. On top of this, 70% of customers are more motivated to purchase from companies who take an active interest in improving the world.

This momentum puts pressure on organizations to double down on CSR.

But to meet these expectations, CSR teams need more support and resources. In 2023, one-in-five CSR professionals reported mental health concerns on account of rising job demands. Many of your teammates already have too much on their plate.

Good CSR software takes some of the load. It helps by making it easier to launch and track the impact of CSR programs. The right CSR software can also help you focus more on practicing good corporate citizenship, by removing the grunt work and making space for deeper strategic thinking. 

And, as we’ll get into, it’s never been more important for CSR teams to think deeply and strategically about their programs. With the backlash against ESG, the rise of AI, and climate change impacting daily life, we’re approaching an inflection point on how companies engage with the communities they’re in. It’s an exciting time, and your CSR software needs to match the moment. Before we get into the specifics of how, let’s reflect on the trends influencing CSR practitioners today.


ESG backlash may bleed into CSR programs

ESG initiatives are facing ongoing backlash, but business leaders seem to continue to affirm their commitments, albeit with new terminology. This shift may bleed into CSR programs and change how business leaders prioritize and speak about CSR.

Recent legislation understandably affects business leaders’ sentiment towards ESG. According to the Conference Board, 61% of companies surveyed think ESG backlash will continue or intensify in the coming two years. That said, in the same report, the Conference Board also indicates most anti-ESG shareholder proposals fail to gain traction. 

61% of companies surveyed think ESG backlash will continue or intensify in the coming two years. Source: Conference Board

61% of companies surveyed think ESG backlash will continue or intensify in the coming two years. Source: Conference Board

In the face of these shifts, a Wall Street Journal article recently reported that business leaders are moving away from “ESG” terminology, largely sticking to their commitments, and using different terminology, such as “responsible business.

Of course, ESG isn’t CSR. But they’re closely related, and however these shifts end up affecting ESG programs, CSR programs are bound to feel the shockwaves. These shockwaves may influence business leaders’ decision to invest in CSR software and their requirements for that software.


The “Catch-22” for CSR teams continues

In last year’s report, we identified a “Catch-22,” in which CSR is increasingly becoming a priority for businesses, but the budget and headcount don’t match the intention. This trend continued throughout 2023, and will likely continue throughout 2024.

According to one 2023 study by the Association for Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP), CSR teams felt c-suite leaders were more committed to CSR in 2023, which is reassuring. But these teams also reported these same leaders don’t understand the role of CSR as well as they understand other concepts, like ESG. 

As Caroline Berkowitz, CEO of ACCP, describes, this situation has the potential to lead to a “starvation cycle.” This cycle begins when demands on CSR teams increase, but they’re not given the resources to meet these demands. 

For many, this cycle may become more intense in 2024, as ACCP’s report goes on to show that 2023 was the first year we’ve seen an uptick in the number of grantmaking budgets declining. In 2023, 21% of CSR grantmaking budgets declined, an increase from 14% in 2022. We’ll have to wait and see if this trend continues in 2024.

Most CSR budgets stayed flat in 2023. Source: ACCP

Most CSR budgets stayed flat in 2023. Source: ACCP

When it comes to advocating for CSR software, it may help to contextualize it as a way to interrupt this starvation cycle and truly fix the Catch-22 CSR teams seem caught within.


People want businesses to commit to social impact

Despite the ongoing pressure legislation and the Catch-22 situation CSR teams may face, everyday people still overwhelmingly want CSR programs. This may contribute to the increased demands on CSR teams, but it may also help you make the case for CSR software by highlighting the urgency.

We already  know that 76% of employees want their employers to align with their values. In 2024, Gen Z will continue to enter the workforce en masse, and they expect companies do more than simply turn a profit and hand over a paycheck. On top of this, 77% of consumers are more likely to purchase from companies doing something to improve the world. 

Employee resource groups (ERGs) are one result of these expectations. As of the publication of this report, 95% of organizations have at least one ERG. Submittable also has a few, you can read about how we’ve started our ERGs and how we run them.

Between customers and employees wanting more from companies, CSR efforts will likely continue to gain momentum and importance in their organizations. CSR software will need to keep up with this demand and give everyone a way to participate.

Don’t drop the CSR ball with Millennials and Gen Z.

Master CSR for the future of the workforce today.

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Rising pressure around climate change

Climate change is unavoidable—it’s impacting daily life for people across the world. The general public now expects companies to be proactive about their environmental impact, and CSR teams are central to that effort.

We’re at a tipping point when it comes to society’s perception of climate change. Seventy-four percent of Americans say climate change is happening right now. On top of this, two-thirds of Americans believe large businesses aren’t doing enough to combat climate change.

According to the 2023 ACCP study referenced earlier, environmental sustainability is the top social issue at companies with CSR programs. In 2024, this focus is likely to sharpen.

And yet, these trends don’t match philanthropic spending. In fact, only 2% of philanthropic funding goes toward climate change efforts. As more and more people both take note of and see the effects of climate change, it will be increasingly important for companies to prioritize this when planning CSR programs.


Artificial intelligence is here and it’s unavoidable

AI is everywhere now, including embedded into CSR software. It’s no longer a matter of if your organization will use AI, but how. 

Already, AI is seeping into word processors, search engines, and more. It will become a part of everyday work in the coming months and years. Which means organizations need to think now, not later, about how they’ll use AI in their own company. In 2024, your corporate social responsibility software will need to clarify its stance on AI. In 2023, we laid out our responsible AI principles, which we encourage you to read. 

Recently, we expanded on these principles with our AI hub, which contains all our AI-related content and an invitation to participate in our AI research. In 2024 and beyond, you’ll need to choose a CSR platform that’s thoughtful and transparent with their AI use.

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Evaluating CSR software in 2024

When evaluating CSR software, it’s important to keep the above trends in mind and to think about the scope of your use case. Some CSR software is capable of delivering a very broad range of features, while others specialize to help companies with one type of CSR programs. 

We break CSR programs up into three types:

  • Community investment: Grantmaking, scholarships, awards, and other community-focused efforts.

  • Employee volunteering: Efforts and initiatives driven by employee involvement.

  • Corporate giving: Company-fueled efforts that don't entail the same level of employee involvement.

Keep the following in mind when shopping for CSR software that fits your own use case. Making the right choice can allow you to act quickly, pivot on the fly, and get the most out of your CSR efforts.

Security: A #1 feature for all use cases

No matter your use case, top-notch security is a must for any CSR software you choose.

The cost of the wrong software: Compromised data for millions of customers, as in the case of Blackbaud’s breach in 2020.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the platform encrypting information?

  • What’s the company’s data storage policy?

  • Are they SOC 2 Type 2 certified?

  • Do they adhere to GDPR rules?

  • What’s their track record with customer data?

Dig deep and give security the attention it deserves. You and your customer’s depend on it.

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7 Features to look for in community investment software

It’s not uncommon for community investment efforts—grantmaking and giving, scholarships, awards, etc—to require tons of paperwork and box checking, for both grantors and grantees. Ideal CSR software should streamline these processes and lower the applicant burden for your community. 

The following features can make that a reality.

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1. Workflow automations

2. Built-in fraud prevention

3. In-app communication

4. Collaborative review

5. Two-way integrations

6. Funds tracking and distribution

7. Impact reporting

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8 features to look for in employee volunteering software

Employee volunteer programs are a great way to get your team involved in the community, foster team building, and give people a chance to connect with others in a way work doesn’t normally allow. But, organizing employee volunteering efforts takes great effort, and getting them to actually sign up is another matter entirely.

The right CSR software should make it as easy as possible for employees to give back to the community and provide a home for ERGs.

Trulieve upped employee participation and logged 900 volunteer hours over 4 months because of Submittable’s ease of use for employees.

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1. Simple sign-up

2. Personal dashboard

3. ERG alignment

4. Event creation privileges

5. Participant visibility

6. In-app surveys

7. Automated waitlists

8. Dollars for Doers functionality

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8 features to look for in corporate giving software

Corporate philanthropy is less hands-on for the bulk of your employees, but can result in a ton of work for your corporate giving, HR, and payroll teams. With the right CSR software, you can streamline corporate giving efforts and even improve your future initiatives overall.

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1. Automatic payroll deductions

2. Company matching

3. Individual donation hub

4. Database of vetted nonprofits

5. Campaign creation privileges

6. Collective impact reporting

7. Automatically generated tax documentation

8. Multinational giving and volunteering

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Find a CSR solution that keeps up

The trends that influence CSR are always evolving or changing entirely with each passing month. A great CSR platform can evolve right along with these changes. You need CSR software that keeps up with and even defines the trends. 

Submittable is flexible, agile, and capable of keeping up with any changes the CSR industry can muster up. Our platform democratizes giving, making it easy for both leadership and your employees to create campaigns and affect change as you scale your CSR efforts

But that’s not all Submittable can do. Submittable can:

  • Automate review workflows and save precious time

  • Streamline launch with drag-and-drop building

  • Measure impact with advanced, automated reporting

  • Simplify data with personalized dashboards

  • Foster collaboration with multiple users, internally and externally

  • Keep your community safe with SOC 2 Type 2, HIPAA, and GDPR compliance

Don’t let CSR software hold you back. Choose CSR software that helps you focus more on giving, and less on checking boxes.

Talk to the giving specialists at Submittable today

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