Social Impact vs. CSR


In the realm of workplace giving, we hear the terms Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Impact being thrown around a lot. What do they each really mean? Are they interchangeable? How do they work together? To answer these questions, we consulted Bryan Breckenwridge (a recent guest on Changemakers from Within). Here’s how he breaks down the differences between the two: 


Corporal Social Responsibility is in some ways “table stakes to being a good organization.” It is focused largely on activities such as donations, sponsorships, community relations, and volunteerism. Being a world class company requires that as a brand, you are thinking about matters such as:
  • long term shareholder value
  • the impact that you have on the community and the planet
  • how your company can be more inclusive and diverse

Bottom line, CSR means being a good company. It is about how corporations can create positive impact through their already existing programs and initiatives.

Social Impact

Social impact means that you are active in your approach to social change. With social impact, your goal is to increase your social and environmental value at a rate equal or greater than the rate you increase your commercial and economic value. It means you are integrating these considerations into all components of the business, from the way the board makes decisions to how a prospective employee perceives a brand and is onboarded. It’s about asking questions such as:

  • If you’re measuring the business, why not also measure your impact on the environment?
  • If you’re building business strategies, why not also consider some of the other strategies related to social impact that can be woven in as well?

Ultimately, social impact is not an afterthought. It’s woven into the DNA and operating model of the company, cutting across functions and business units.  

The Bottom Line

Hopefully, the difference between CSR and social impact is a little clearer now. As society faces more serious challenges, from climate change to rising inequality, the expectations of businesses to have a larger role in society have dramatically increased. Right now, it’s more important than ever to understand the various ways organizations can make positive change so that everyone is equipped with the knowledge to start powerful discussions within their own workplace.