Encouraging corporate social responsibility
From the 2016 UNCG Graduate Research and Creativity Expo
Writer and PhD student Tara Konya works with her faculty mentor, Dr. Nancy Nelson Hodges, in the UNCG Department of Consumer, Apparel, and Retail Studies. Her poster, “At the Intersection of Social Marketing and Public Policy: An Exploration of a Nonprofit from the Client Perspective,” took 1st place in Professional Programs at the 2016 Graduate Research and Creativity Expo.
After 18 years in the apparel retail industry, I decided to quit work and return to school. The UNCG consumer, apparel, and retail studies program was the perfect fit for my background and expertise. My passion is helping others, and, academically, that became an interest in corporate social responsibility (CSR). I am particularly interested in connecting CSR initiatives with the local community.
CSR and nonprofits
CSR is broadly defined as a firm’s activities and status relative to its societal and stakeholder obligations. An example of CSR is when for-profit firms donate to nonprofits (i.e., monetary donations, in-kind donations, and volunteer time). CSR is a major factor in keeping nonprofits sustainable.
My passion for CSR grew through my involvement with several local nonprofits. Activate Good is a Triangle-based nonprofit aimed at promoting volunteerism. I have helped plan their fundraising fashion show, Couture for a Cause since its inception eight years ago. I am also actively involved in their Pro Hero’s initiative, where I use my marketing and merchandising background to help a nonprofit in need. My service with Activate Good gave me a thorough understanding of the needs of our community from a multiple-stakeholder perspective. Additionally, I sat on the Board of Directors for Passage Home, a Wake County nonprofit that provides resources to those in need to promote individual economic sustainability and to strengthen the community. In the past, when I worked for Banana Republic, I also planned district and regional skills-based volunteering opportunities and coordinated efforts with Dress for Success, an international nonprofit seeking to achieve economic independence for women by providing a network of support.
These activities gave me first-hand knowledge of the philanthropic benefits CSR initiatives provide nonprofits – and inspired my research for the 2016 Graduate Research and Creativity Expo. I believe that documenting the voices of the clients associated with a nonprofit can guide social marketing initiatives, encouraging companies to expand their CSR initiatives.
Women are an underserved population, often experiencing less education, lower salaries, and higher unemployment rates. Those women who utilize nonprofits are often subject to stereotyping. Through my research, I sought to break down barriers by analyzing the needs and experiences of women using the services of the nonprofit, Dress for Success Triangle NC.
I spent the summer of 2015 observing and interviewing clients, volunteers, and staff at the nonprofit’s Raleigh and Durham locations. I found that the average client is facing a hardship, such as unemployment, divorce, or relocation. She is typically between the ages of 35 and 55 and has a college education.
The women facing these hardships were at a crossroads, not knowing what options they had available to them. For example, one client said, “I felt really helpless, lost, and hopeless. I didn’t know what to do or where to start.” Clients gained the support they needed through the nonprofit. One client said, “I no longer feel alone.” The nonprofit provided a supportive network leading to positive self-esteem among the clients.
Reflecting on the experience, a client stated, “I felt like a failure before….and now I am empowered.” I found that Dress for Success provided a holistic approach to meeting the needs of its clients by offering mental, emotional, and psychical support. That support helped clients develop necessary economic independence.
The study of nonprofits is beneficial to both the economic and social well-being of our local communities. Disseminating the results of these studies helps nonprofits as they target philanthropic donations offered by the CSR initiatives of businesses. Ultimately, these studies help deliver positive change to those in need.
Moving forward, I plan to research CSR initiatives and their effects on the local community. My dissertation examines employees of apparel retailers, their perspectives on CSR community initiatives, and implications for future programs and improved public policy.
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