With Attorney and Author Linda Lattimore
This installment of Tracks to Success focuses on the topic of corporate social responsibility.
Our guest today is Linda Lattimore. Linda is a seasoned lawyer, corporate executive, and business strategist. More recently, Linda inspires nonprofit professionals, social entrepreneurs, and everyone in between as an author, speaker, and trainer.
Linda has received the International Humanitarian Award from Ten Thousand Villages as well as being nominated for Woman of the Year by both San Diego Magazine and Austin Woman Magazine.
Linda gave her time to talk to GrantStation about the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement, its intersection with the nonprofit world, and how we all can effectively collaborate to achieve a common goal and mission, regardless of our backgrounds or positions.
Thank you for your time, Linda. It is an exciting time to live a socially impactful life with the energy to not only positively impact your community, but to create a sustainable model. The collaborative spirit is palpable. We’re excited to have you with us, so let’s dive right in!
ZS: CSR is a term that seems to have a number of interpretations. How do you define it?
People ask me all the time what CSR, or corporate social responsibility is. By the name, they assume it only applies to corporations and it must have something to do with philanthropy and periodic donations to charities.
While it still maintains this role and visibility in the traditional sense, it has become a much broader movement with numerous interpretations. In fact, most corporations are steering away from the term CSR and beginning to use other terms such as “social impact,” “social innovation,” “corporate responsibility or accountability,” or “sustainability” just to name a few.
My definition includes three pillars:
- Responsibility for our effects on the environment, the impact we make, and the financial health of our organization
- Sustainability by leaving a lasting and healthy legacy to future generations
- Values based strategy where all stakeholders are treated ethically and responsibly
What it is not is a simple check to a charity or an effort to look like the good guy while failing to “walk the talk.”
ZS: How has the CSR movement evolved from your vantage point?
CSR may seem like a new topic but it’s not, though perhaps becoming more visible than ever due to access to information and ease of communication. People are basically values driven, and now more than ever, are demanding that those values permeate all aspects of business practices, not just when it is convenient. To that end, CSR is constantly evolving.
ZS: What are some of the pitfalls of CSR such as greenwashing for example?
An early experience of mine (and I am sure many of your readers) was when I purchased clothing touting that a certain percentage of the profits were being donated to the rainforest. Soon thereafter, almost every company I purchased from was advertising their good intentions to donate funds to compelling causes. However, upon closer inspection, it was discovered that they were in fact treating their employees and vendors in less than stellar ways, wasting their resources and leaving a negative environmental footprint on the planet – the antithesis of their claims.
It was all just a marketing ploy better known as “cause marketing,” geared to tug at the purchaser’s heartstrings, and their purse strings.
I tell my clients, if a “socially conscious” company can’t measure and report on the impact of your patronage, don’t bother. Find another one that can. If you are trying to save the world but your own house has serious problems, do some clean up first!
ZS: Where do you see the future of CSR? Are there any new challenges or opportunities with the new administration?
I’m not a futurist by any means, but I can tell you that I feel extremely positive at the direction CSR is taking. I was somewhat concerned when this new administration took office that many of the areas I advocate for would be minimized - and to some extent, they have.
But, these measures have served as a catalyst to get people involved and engaged in ways that I have not witnessed in many years. Citizens are using their voices and the power of social media to create unparalleled change.
The next generation of changemakers will demand a paradigm shift toward conscious leadership from both our companies and our government officials. Take a look at the initiative of our teens in Florida on gun control. Without outside support, they came together, got the word out, and took impressive action. I believe that they will get more done than any generation before them if given the tools and the attention they need and deserve. I’m hopeful that this generation will positively shape CSR, and I am excited to see how it unfolds.
For the 2nd half of our conversation, we will do a deep dive into just how the nonprofit sector and its professionals can actively engage and share the space with CSR, and how they can work together to create a sustainable model for philanthropy and community service.
Want to know if you and your organization are on target with your sustainability plan? Take Linda's Nonprofit Sustainability Assessment to see how you stack up.