Four Tips for Building Sustainable CSR

CMO Spotlight: Claudia Schiepers, Greystone

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Claudia Schiepers.
Claudia Schiepers. Credit: Greystone
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Real estate has played a tangential role in defining 2016, given that America's incoming leader forged his reputation in that industry. There is a less trumpeted side of real estate, of course -- one that Claudia Schiepers, chief marketing Officer of investment and advisory firm Greystone, knows well. Coincidentally, Schiepers won the Belgian version of "The Apprentice" some years ago, but it's no coincidence that she also received The CMO Club's Corporate Social Responsibility Award in 2016.

Schiepers helped promote a culture-centric curriculum for CSR at Greystone that would put some of America's largest philanthropic organizations to shame. Here are four of her insights, which should inspire every marketing leader to roll up his or her sleeves and build a towering CSR program in 2017.

1. Start from the ground up

Aside from Greystone's investment and advisory services, some of its businesses, like the not-for-profit Harmony Housing, focus on providing or maintaining affordable housing. But the spirit of CSR runs deep. "I think the way we handle philanthropy at Greystone is a little bit different than what you see from other companies," says Schiepers. "We try to engrain it in everything that we do."

As a private company, Greystone is under no legal obligation to act socially responsible in the first place. But founder Stephen Rosenberg believes strongly in giving, and in hiring employees who do too. Not every CMO is fortunate enough to work for such charitable leadership, however. For them, Schiepers has a word of advice: "I would say start small, test and grow it from within the company."

She cites the company's very first all-staff volunteer day. "It came up when we had our 25th anniversary, and we were like, 'It's a celebration year, what can we do?' And I said, 'Well, we always talk about how we give back. How about we really make it part of our DNA?' And this is how it grew," she says. "It's all about making suggestions, trying things out and then rolling them out across the organization."

2. Assemble a top-notch toolbox

As Schiepers says, volunteer day was just the beginning. She and her team then developed three additional pillars to make giving back "a bit more institutionalised" and define how Greystone's employees can embody the spirit of CSR. This includes gift matching and a charitable budget for each of its 20-plus offices in America, which give to a charity of personal significance every month.

"We gave them a lot of tools," says Schiepers. Aside from the structural programs, she and her team work with local management to reinforce the granular aspects of charitable work. "We have employee engagement data that we share with managers, [teaching] them how to have difficult conversations and great conversations," she says. Greystone also developed an awards program that allows employees to recognize each other. "So, it's all about empowering the managers in your company to use the system, having your employees feel like they are involved in it," she says.

3. Give instruction!

Obviously, a robust toolbox is useless if the handlers don't know how to use it. For that, Schiepers and her team developed a culture book that outlines standards of behavior when it comes to being charitable. "We say, 'At Greystone, [caring] means being interested in or concerned about the wellbeing of others," says Schiepers. "It means that you actively listen, keep an open mind, seek to understand, treat people with respect and kindness. We don't allow yelling. Mentor others, foster other's development, lead by example."

Greystone's retention and recruitment both benefit from a clear statement of these standards. "Integrity is one," says Schiepers. "And the example we always use is that Enron had 'Integrity' on their wall. It doesn't mean anything until you fill in what integrity means for your particular brand or your company."

4. Know that if you build it, they will come

Many CMOs fret over whether to tout their CSR activities. Schiepers's team strikes a balance between good PR and sincerity by publicly commending their local offices' good deeds on platforms like Facebook. "I think that makes the story more powerful because it is not a corporate driven initiative," she says.

In truth, Schiepers cares more about engagement than metrics for these local offices -- perhaps the truest measure of the intentions behind a CSR program. "We don't do it to get a pat on the back afterwards," she says. "I think that's the key for our social responsibility." In fact, any attention Greystone receives reaps an even greater reward: the ability to build its workforce to further its charitable mission. "That is the biggest return on the investment, that we get people that care about other people to join our company," she says.

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