The wait for final accounting statement is seldom pleasant. It’s a long duress and it should not impact existing or future expansion projects under Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR personnel in India have two options, either wait for final numbers to arrive from the finance team or get going. The author is more interested in the second option and recommends adapting the second approach. However, the word of caution is it’s a calculative risk but the risk is worth taking. There are two strong reasons to vie for this approach. The biggest reason is it would help set the ball rolling in the new fiscal year. The second reason is it gives enough and more scope to have face time with the Board, of course it means more meetings and meaningful engagements. It also helps build rapport with senior executives.
Communication on the exact mandatory 2% CSR spending is time consuming and painstakingly long process. It is understandable and there are valid reasons for the delayed process. However, it should not hamper and stop the CSR professional from an early planning. In most cases it may be too late or shortened time frame to fund and undertake exemplary social development projects. The aim of the article is to share high-level directions to streamline thoughts and actions to gear-up and face the onslaught of coming year’s load with ease. These thoughts are not prescriptive in nature but mere reflection of personal journey that have helped immensely building a strong pipeline of projects that would make difference in people and communities.
Consolidate and Accelerate
It may sound ironical to present a consolidation statement of previous year’s projects to the Board in the beginning of the fiscal year. Moreover, it may be whimsical to open the books when accounts are closed and sought the Board approval to meet the regulatory compliance. However, it is equally important to note that corporate does look for the past experiences to plan for the future expansion plan. Therefore, CSR personnel should share a deck with all important project details including financial outlays.
It makes a great story to showcase beginning of the present on past the year plan. Therefore, it is wise to propose and seek approval of continuous projects rather than begin the first Board meeting with new project proposals. It is important to pay attention that the Board is provides advance approvals therefore caution is very critical. It is also critical to note that these approvals would have long lasting impressions on future decisions based on actual profit numbers and set standard practices for the future fiscal year planning.
It is even more taxing for CSR professionals working for a US multinational company in India. They have multiple fiscal years accounting and reporting in practice. The teams from parent company would expect reports as early as in December. The Indian team would expect things to be in place in the mid of March. Therefore, CSR personnel in India are practically tied up from the month of November till the end of March. Therefore, early start, well ahead of disclosure of actual financial statement would help some breathing space to innovate and executive some out of the box and world-class projects that would make some difference in lives and communities.
Anticipate and Engage
The biggest strength CSR personnel can drive is through the Office of the Chief Executive. It’s a powerful office with seer focus on results. It would be good to remind that CSR is strategic. The days of charities are gone by and any second thoughts would undermine CSR and CSR personnel role in the organization. Therefore, keep a tab on directions from the Office of the Chief Executive. The earlier the engagement is better for setting up of the trend.
Legal executives may not have any say in early discussions and engagements with respect to CSR however keeping them abreast on the progress would be an added advantage. The other key division that has huge binding on the survival and strengthening CSR is finance. It is a Best Known Method to catch them as early as in the month of April to understand what’s in the store. However, finance can only do so much as much as CSR personnel show the confidence from the past experiences and practices. In all these, cog in the wheel is Company Secretary. There’s nothing that moves without blessings from the office of Company Secretary. Therefore for an early start and building high impact projects, it is essential to catch these critical key players early in the fiscal year to build and seek larger consensus to roll-out programs that would keep the organization engaged throughout the year.
Housekeeping and Homework
Irrespective of the month or stage of the year, it’s a good practice to keep a constant eye on the sponsored projects and implementing partners, even more so in the beginning of the financial year. CSR personnel could invest their time and energies in undertaking housekeeping and doing some serious homework with respect to CSR project implementation practices. The homework is handy to understand hits and misses to undertake housekeeping activities.
These housekeeping activities include consolidation of annual reports, initiate and oversee social audit of CSR projects, scheduling of employee volunteering activities and blocking senior executives visit to project sites. In this age of technology and availability of advanced monitoring tools, it is vital that CSR personnel is well equipped with information and constantly updated. Therefore, it is equally important that CSR personnel invest by enrolling in management or executive development program with a reputed academic institution or social development agency.
It is important that CSR executives plan in advance without waiting too long on clear cut instructions on the way forward. They have to consolidate on previous experiences and accelerate for future. They also need to anticipate what’s in the store and start engagement early with the internal and external stakeholders. There is always room for homework and set the house in order with basic housekeeping activities to set the tone for the new fiscal year. The key, of course, is to create a realistic plan with robust project proposals along with budgets, observations, review timelines and steps for good record maintenance. These practices would certainly help the CSR professional gear-up and face the onslaught of coming year’s load.
About the Author
Nirbhay Lumde is a Corporate Social Responsibility professional and writes on current social, economic and environmental trends. He is an alumnus of IIT Bombay. The views expressed in the article are personal. He can be reached @NirbhayLumde
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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.