How to organize a company CSR event – practical tips

How to organize a company CSR event  (10 mins read)

and help shape corporate sustainable culture along the way

Organizing a corporate CSR event is a challenging task but can be a rewarding experience for both the organizers and participants. Every event can help, if done right, to strengthen team bonding and reinforce sustainability culture within the company.

There is growing recognition of sustainability as a key business pillars by corporate leadership. This a positive trend as top management plays a key role in providing strategic direction and support. With dedicated resource and collective effort, sustainable culture can be cultivated, takes root,  and grow from the ground up.

Culture is like the wind. It is invisible, yet its effect can be seen and felt. When it is blowing in your direction it makes for smooth sailing. When it is blowing against you, everything is more difficultHBR

Company CSR outing can be more than PR event

Between the boardroom and the employees, there may be still gaps between “knowing” and “doing”. It is no mean feat to translate sustainability strategy into local level implementation. Besides planning for event logistics and resources, organizers need to be mindful of the potential imprint the event would leave, to the environment where the event takes place.

CSR events can help shape sustainable behaviour 

A sustainable event, by design,  should also leave a positive legacy both socially and economically in the community where it is held. But too often the sustainability objective is lost in translation. Post event planning is important to ensure sustainable behaviour change and avoid leaving higher environment footprint at. location.

Whether you are heading the sustainability office, or planning a single event, it is useful to develop a clear framework before you start looking into nitty gritty of event organization.

Ready to start planning the event(s) ?   Here are 3 basic first steps, followed by 6 quick tips to plan out company CSR event(s) that have lasting and sustainable impact:

  1. Challenge for the leadership – Direction. focus and support
  2. Reality check on the ground – 7 points checklist
  3. Build a consistent game plan – that is structured, purposeful, engaging and sustainable.
    1. Pick your dream team – recruit steering members and include people-champions
    2. Select theme and slogan – clear objective and call-for-action
    3. Build sustainable partnership – Be selective on who you work with and for
    4. Manage event sustainability impact – minimize footprint
    5. Onboarding employee – encourage volunteerism
    6. Communicate success – incorporate facts and data

A. Challenge for the leadership focus and support

Sustainability development for corporates needs to start from the top. With increasing awareness and corporate commitment to ESG causes, more organizations are incorporating sustainability as strategic pillars – engaging employees, customers and partners to reduce environment footprints, factoring social impact and ethical standards as part of business priorities. Support from boardroom and top management is an essential ingredient for sustainable business practices.

While leadership is concerned with the strategic vision, management is concerned with the operational decision making. Both of them have the role to integrate all necessary resources and capabilities to support events and campaigns that promote adoption of sustainability values.

B. Reality Check on the groundDoing a quick self-assessment before planning the events

Ready to take the plunge ?So you are tasked for the project and have full backing of company leadership. There may still be questions to be answered such as:

  • How to shortlist themes, events and partners ?
  • How to encourage staff participation?
  • ·How to optimize event impact and ensure future continuity ?
  • ·How to minimize carbon footprint and keep event “eco-friendly” ?
Check reality on the ground – look before you leap !


You can use checklist below to assess if the company has laid down basic foundation to support implementation of focused events:

  • Does the company has identified specific sustainability focus areas ?  Establish clear objectives using framework such as UN SDG pillars including climate, education, health, zero poverty etc
  • Are resources made available to incentivise and engage employees ?     Options including time-off, dollar matching donation , measurable sustainability KPIs to recognise contributions
  • Evaluated options to collaborate with creditable local or regional partners ?     Work with Knowledgeable partners with expertise will optimise result and impact of events
  • Have structures been set up to engage employees for participation ?        Introduce catalysts and  people-champions such as dept IC/Committee to communicate and mobilise
  • Reviewed skill-based based volunteering based on employee profile – Leverage on employees’ expertise based on training and job roles, delivery logistics, IT support etc
  • Surveys of employee profile done to promote volunteerism  – Encourage participation by matching  interest, age, volunteering experience etc

These are by no means prerequisites to be fulfilled before events can be planned–you can benchmark against these practices and consider areas to enhance your own organization’s framework down the line.  Mind bearing that events are platforms where companies can implement sustainability practices, and reinforce strategic direction for the longer run.

C.  Building a win-win game plan – six tips to help you get started

Make  sure you have a clear roadmap – whether you are organizing a single-day employee volunteering opportunity, or developing a long-standing relationship with a NGO partner, you will be dealing with many moving parts. A single- event requires less planning than a long-term commitment; however, the longer the commitment, the greater the potential meaning and reward for your employees.

(Note: Environmental pillar gets the most attention under Sustainability priorities, but similar principles be applied for  events to impact Social and Economic pillars)

1. Pick your dream teamDon’t try to go it alone

Teamwork is essential to implement  corporate CSR program successfully and to sustain the momentum. It is essential to engage stakeholders and identify “champions” and  “influencers” to help to plan, communicate and mobilise the entire organisations,

Start by rounding up sustainability “champions” and peer-leaders to help catalyst the process. Empowered and enthusiastic team-leads will help to mobilise peers, provide feedback, publicise event, promote buy-in, and mitigate communication gaps between levels and departments within the organization

Do not take on big task single-handedly

If possible, build a formal structure with a regular steering committee to facilitate ongoing organization effort, and to maintain momentum built. There is a need to strike a balance between picking members with influence and clouts on one hand. Enthusiastic “activists” and creative individuals on the other hand, adds passion and cab be source of inspiration. It is best to have a good mix of personalities that are aligned on the collective sustainability objectives.

The team should work together to finalize the budget, funding, define goals and intended outcome for the event(s), before rolling out the event.

2. Select theme and sloganIdentify relevant and consistent themes your company is focusing, follow up with an effective slogan to communicate campaign focus and objective. Avoid grand-sounding and ambiguous campaign tagline  such as “ Save-the-earth”, or “ Support zero-carbon” or “ Education for all ”, but states what the company will do through the event such as “ Clean beach-Clear ocean”, or  “1000 trees for cleaner air”, or “Car-free-day to save-energy ”, or “Book fair for children home”..

You can work with your team-leads and communication experts to identify needs in your community and environmental causes. The team can then brainstorm catchy and purposeful slogan to promote activity. This will help to create a feeling of solidarity and differentiate your organization, and what you stand for to the outside world.  The “call-for-action” raise awareness among employees of the event objectives, spur initial interest and promote participation.

Seven tips for effective slogan (event)

  1. Keep it short and simple.
  2. Be consistent (align with company focus)
  3. Focus on what makes you different (be unique)
  4. Make it timeless ( relevant and memorable)
  5. Ensure it can stand alone (tell audience exactly what it is )
  6. Consider your target audience (employees, community, customers..)
  7. Get input from employees (slogan contest/brainstorm/social media..)

3. Be selective and build sustainable partnership

Careful selection of creditable and trusted non-profit organization, or custodian,  is crucial to ensure effort and resource is well invested,  and that the event would result in positive environment or social impact. Avoid organizing event that allocates bulk of expenditure on event administration, logistics, marketing, food and lodging for participants, with little left for the intended environment or social beneficiary.

Meeting needs of community by leveraging on employees skill set ( such as digital skills, administrative or technical skill) is cost-effective way to give-back. Instead of  donating time or money, employees can offer expertise through online platforms or causes that s that need website design, social media copy, content writing, research and analysis, and much more. Employees are able to lend their specific skills at their convenience.

Most companies do not have in house expertise to deal directly with broader environment, social or economics causes. it is advisable to build partnership with established and reputable expert body or NGO, who specializes in projects such as reforestation; coastal and ocean cleaning; clean water and energy supply, corals recovery etc.  Finding the right partner will ease navigation around legal, safety, and ensuring positive and optimal benefits to the intended beneficiary.

Direct monetary and resource donation, logistics and other form of collaboration are also possible options.  It is advisable to develop long term collaboration with NGO organizations – starting with pilot projects, initially and scale up for longer term.

Criteria for choosing NGO partners

  • Formal Existence – official registered, legal and accountable entity
  • Documentation – registry, policy statement and financial reports if applicable.
  • Credibility and History – check records, expertise, capabilities, existing partners.
  • Mission Alignment – good correlation between partners on sustainability goals
  • Serving A Need – work scope that meet need of stakeholders or community
  • Measurability – quantifiable result and well defined outcome of proposed projects

4. Manage event sustainability impact – A sustainable event is one that minimize impact on the environment where it takes place. Organizer should make effort to optimize resource (water, energy, food, paper) consumption; reduce waste, plastics and the event carbon footprint.

As case in point, outdoor music concerts and art festivals are taking steps to cut down waste, reduce plastic,, and conserve energy use to promote sustainable values and reduce environment footprint (BBC).

  • Choose reusable banner or eco-friendly swag for branding: Consider re-usable event banner instead of T shirts. If swag or branded gifts is a must-have for the event, you can choose something that highlight company sustainability goals such as recycled water bottle , or merchandise made from sustainable material. Why ?
Corporate T-shirts and apparels are great for staff bonding and enhance branding. They are cost effective and looks great on photos with all the smiling staff and management. BUT majority of T-shirts are only worn during the event despite the significant environment cost of producing an apparel (read-more Smithsonian).

Instead of printing new T shirts for each event, you may consider coordinated colour and reusable corporate banner for publicity and photo-ops. Consider also sustainable options for refreshment, food and cutleries, transportation and other resources required for the event.  Give due consideration on ways to mitigate footprint resulted by the event(s) and the participants.

Be sustainable – consider reusable materials and conserve resources


  • Reduce use of paper and plastic usage for the event: Go digital – use websites and  apps to promote events, replacing printing paper brochures, maps and posters. Encourage BYO for food and refreshment instead of disposable plastics, why ?
    • Single-Use plastic is polluting the earth : UN estimated the world produce 300 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, equivalent to weight of entire human generations. Plastic weight can persist in the environment (river, ocean or land) for centuries, eventually gets broken down into tiny plastic particles that can be swallowed by animals or fish, and can find their way into food consumed by human. Read more Our planet is drowning in plastic pollution.
    • Reducing-paper helps fight climate change: According to data from Global Forest Resource Assessment  roughly 80,000 to 16,000 trees are cut down each day around the world with a significant percentage being used in the paper industry. The major impact of the constant deforestation is the change in global climatic pattern.
  • Make sustainable arrangement for food and water: The food you serve at events can result in not just a lot of waste but also increase your event’s overall carbon footprint. The single-use plastic plates, cups, straws, and other packaging material also result in a lot of waste that can neither be recycled nor composted. Collectively, the impact of all of this on the environment can be quite large.
    • That’s why it’s important for event organizers to be mindful of their event menu and their food service. Little things like biodegradable tableware, reusable cutlery, tap water instead of bottled water, and not over-ordering food can result in a big change. Plans should also be made to send the leftover food from the event to orphanages and shelters.
  • An eco-friendly venue? : Plan venue location accessible to public transportation, this will minimize the need to organize additional vehicles fleet and lower the carbon footprint for the event. It is useful to select venues with good waste management operation, natural lighting and energy efficient systems.

5. Onboarding employees and promote volunteerism:

It’s a good practice to  reach out to your employees to identify their interests.  Many people might already be engaged with a particular non-profit, and if so, they can provide ideas and experiences.  Distributing a survey or a questionnaire is an easy way to gather information about existing community involvement within your company. You might also encourage employees to nominate a cause.

Once you identify a cause, engage employees and give them time to make a difference. The company may designate employee-volunteer or team-building days for opportunities such as :

  1. Cleaning up a beach, park, highway, or other public area
  2. Building shelter or community lodging for the needy
  3. Volunteering at a local food bank
  4. Joining a charity walk or run, organized plogging
  5. Organizing a company bake or garage sale and donating the proceeds
  6. Staffing an charity event or performance

Although it’s great to work as a group, employee volunteering doesn’t have to be a team effort. Sometimes an employee has a cause they’re particularly passionate about, or one that requires travel or time commitments not possible for their co-workers. Organizations that offer paid time off to volunteer allow employees to contribute to causes that matter most to them. Incorporating sustainability theme for team-building activities are ways to engage management and staff.

More ideas to encourage employee participations include

  • Walk the talk. Employees won’t jump to participate in a volunteer program if they don’t see that management really cares.  It’s important for leadership to join their staff in volunteering to prove they are personally invested in the cause.
  • Match employee donations When employees know their contributions will be matched, they are more likely to donate, knowing their dollar stretches further, and also feel their organization values the same things they do. The 2015 Millennial Impact Report found that 69 percent of millennials are more likely to give if they know their efforts will be matched.
  • Organize for the masses. Popular events such as group-run, sport and hobby-fair, will facilitate higher participation. Coupled with fund raising, these events  are inclusive and present lower entry barriers compared to specialized environmental and community work. They are useful to raise awareness and promote participation.
  • Host Sustainability fair. Provide avenues for exchange, recycling and reuse,  either via on-line or physical garage sales,  are options to promote sustainable practices and engagement  between employees
  • Communicate Success. Do not hide your work from the world, neither should you over do it and tagged for t greenwashing, rightly or wrongly.
    • Document employee volunteering events; in-office contests;  and local work on social media and your website. This will not only creates goodwill outside the office, but it showcases your effort the employees in your company,  who can be  proud of their workplace and may be more willing to contribute when the next volunteering opportunity arises.
    • Measure and report specific impact of your event to include
      • Number of volunteers and collective participation man-hours
      • Dollar donation amount and resource invested
      • Impact to the environment such as number of trees planted, amount of waste collected; carbon emission reduced  and energy saved etc
      • Specifics about beneficiaries (environment, community and society at large)
      • Testimonials and sharing by partners, customers and employeesPhotos and Videos on event highlights

By creating a rich narrative around the difference you’re making in your community, you’ll help employees notice how different they feel when they’re active in your volunteer program.  And this sense of fulfilment and inspiration is the fuel that will sustain and broaden your sustainability program.

There you go. There are enough food for thought and practical tips to help you plan a CSR event, and more importantly, help to shape sustainability culture in your company for the longer run.  Now go plan the event and make a sustainable difference  .


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