(Illustration by Yogysic/iStock by Getty Images)

The trick to any effective corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative is to be sure it’s closely intertwined with the company’s special skills and passions, according to Jessica Clancy, SVP of CSR and philanthropy at NBCUniversal. This approach injects the effort with authenticity and can lead to enhanced employee engagement as well as positive social impact.

“We can’t be everything to everybody,” said Clancy. “But as a member of a community and a corporation, it’s your role to be able to give back, and that is the essence of what CSR is.”

In conversation with Nicole Smith of Harvard Business Review during From Day One’s August virtual conference on corporate purpose, Clancy asserted that, today, CSR teams and initiatives are not “nice-to-have” assets, but absolute musts. This is in large part because, Clancy said, employees “want to make sure that there’s more purpose to their work and to their day, and they want more purpose to their companies.”

She added that workers definitely do not want to see their companies revert back to the days of a couple decades ago when they merely engaged in shallow, low-effort attempts to appear socially conscious and committed to community, through “philanthropic check-writing,” sponsorships and the like. Instead, the impact needs to be palpable.

NBCU’s superpower, Clancy said, is “storytelling” and “creativity.” The company has kept that in mind when building its CSR programming.

Its partnership with America on Tech, for example, helps underserved high schoolers explore careers in technology, while a collaboration with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America sees mentorship of teens build professional skills. Perhaps these youngsters will one day contribute to NBCU’s storytelling and creativity in some way. The corporation has also hosted urban youth enrolled in Ghetto Film School for workshops focusing on production, storytelling, career readiness and audience development, and has supported Girls Write Now, a mentorship program for underserved young women interested in writing, by offering up its employees to serve as mentors.

Speaking on corporate purpose: Nicole Smith of Harvard Business Review, left, and Jessica Clancy of NBCUniversal (Image by From Day One)

Clancy highlighted NBCU’s efforts to close America’s digital-equity gap by providing low-cost, high-speed internet to low-income residents. Furthermore, she said, NBCU’s parent company Comcast opened Lift Zones and community centers across the country to provide students, seniors, veterans, and other people with free internet and a safe space to complete schoolwork, grow their skills and apply for jobs. “And so Comcast has been out in front, again, ensuring that communities of color, low-income families have those tools and resources that they need to compete in this increasingly digital world,” Clancy said.

NBCU’s CSR team works closely with the communications and diversity, equity, and inclusion teams to facilitate employee engagement with these initiatives, Clancy said. The company actively seeks worker input about prospective partnerships and keeps track of metrics such as the number of employee hours spent devoted to CSR programming.

For employees who are interested in sitting on the board of directors of nonprofit organizations in the creative arts, the company offers a training program called SERVE. “It is for employees who otherwise wouldn’t probably have had a chance to serve on nonprofit boards,” Clancy said. “So how do we make sure that employees going through that program aren’t just ones who are within those power circles, aren’t just ones who are tapped on the shoulder because they have a connection? We really set out to try to democratize that process and make sure we have equal representation across divisions across locations, skill sets, etc., on boards and nonprofit boards.”

Even though NBCU has already developed these CSR initiatives and many others, the company’s commitment to the communities it serves keeps Clancy and her team busy. The more community engagement the better, especially, as Clancy said, considering NBCU’s widespread brand footprint. “​​It’s an ongoing, iterative journey,” Clancy said. “And we’re never really done.”

Michael Stahl is a New York City-based freelance journalist, writer, and editor. You can read more of his work at MichaelStahlWrites.com, follow him on Twitter @MichaelRStahl, and order his first book, the autobiography of Major League Baseball pitcher Bartolo Colón, at Abrams Books.