PNC says social responsibility is on the rise

Serving the social good is becoming increasingly important, even essential, for most organizations, according to a new survey from PNC Institutional Asset Management.

Amy Kuntz. Courtesy of PNC

Willow Research conducted an online survey on behalf of PNC Institutional Asset Management in December, polling a national sample of executives and financiers at organizations with annual revenues of $25 million or more to take the pulse of opinions and opinions. actions of organizations in terms of social responsibility. , and the results were released last month. About 19% of respondents were from the Midwest.

Amy Kuntz, Midwest regional general manager for PNC Institutional Asset Management, told the Business Journal that her organization wants to understand what social responsibility means to different institutions.

“It’s a huge topic that doesn’t mean just one thing; it’s not just about caring about the environment or about diversity. Our customers and prospects tell us about it, and it sounds different to each of them; it’s not the same for each of them,” Kuntz said.

“What we really wanted to do was talk to people in the for-profit sector and the non-profit sector to ask them, ‘What does social responsibility mean to you and how do you put it into practice?'”

Respondents included CEOs, Presidents, Executive Directors, COOs, and high-level finance positions, including CFOs, CIOs, VPs, and CFOs. Most of the organizations surveyed (95%) had annual revenues of $50 million or more. A total of 240 interviews were conducted, split equally between for-profit and non-profit organizations in healthcare, higher education, insurance, financial services, technology, construction and social services.

“CR initiatives have proliferated in recent years, and studies have shown that investors and consumers are increasingly looking for socially responsible companies that align with their values,” said Alistair Jessiman, CEO of PNC Institutional Asset Management. . “Organizations not only recognize that this activity is good and essential for continued growth, but that it is also the right thing to do.”

The inaugural edition of the PNC SR survey found, among other things, that most leaders (92%) rank corporate social responsibility as a priority for their organization, with two-thirds (65%) saying it is is a “very high priority”. The survey found that nonprofit and business leaders expect to see more policies related to social responsibility in the workplace, with 94% of respondents predicting that social responsibility programs are here to stay. Most leaders (91%) also said they believe businesses and nonprofits can have a real impact on issues such as climate change and diversity, equity and inclusion through to their social responsibility programs and initiatives.

When asked what drives their organization’s commitment to social responsibility as a whole, executives cited several internal and external forces, including leadership from senior management (92%) and their board of directors. administration (89%), alignment with their organization’s mission (90%), the interest of their customers (91%) and the community (90%) and market competition (86%).

“Our survey definitely shows that the importance of SR and environmental, social and governance (ESG) is here to stay, and for-profit and non-profit organizations are increasingly looking for opportunities to demonstrate their values ​​and commitments in this space,” Jessiman said. “It also means that they are looking for guidance in the appropriate way to implement these programs.”

Main SR initiatives

Three out of four organizations surveyed (73%) said they have a program or initiative related to environmental sustainability. However, most of these organizations also said their efforts were started relatively recently – within the past three years. Another 18% said they had not yet implemented an environmental sustainability program, but were in the planning process.

For-profits are more likely to have a sustainability initiative (79%) than non-profits (67%).

Kuntz said that while the survey team didn’t ask follow-up questions to probe this, she suspects the nonprofit respondents may not have taken into consideration that “by their nature, their mission is a form of social responsibility”.

“For example, if you’re running a homeless shelter, you’re doing wonderful things for the world, but maybe you don’t have a green building program either, and so that was our hypothesis, that’s is that maybe some people were thinking, ‘Oh, I don’t have any other programs in place. I’m too busy running my homeless shelter. … Maybe they’re considering this because they don’t have not something as holistic as other organizations.

Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) is also ranked as a top priority for many leaders. Two out of three organizations (68%) currently have an FDI-related program or initiative. Another 26% do not currently have one, but are in the planning stages. For-profit organizations are more likely to have a DEI initiative (76%) than non-profit organizations (59%). Regardless, DEI initiatives are most likely geared towards the organization’s workforce in general (75%) and their leadership and management (68%), although half also target their grassroots. suppliers and vendors (52%), and 40% prioritize diversity. of their board of directors.

Among the top responses, there was also a focus on employee benefits, particularly financial education programs.

“We were happy to confirm that these weren’t just social programs that someone could set up in terms of their corporate foundation or their nonprofit’s mission,” Kuntz said. . “It’s also what they do internally. What we found is that employers see it as their responsibility to help employees prepare for retirement.

While nearly all leaders surveyed said their organization is committed to helping employees save for retirement (99%), just over half of respondents (55%) said less than 50% of their employees were taking advantage of their financial education programs.

Growing importance

Additionally, executives are increasingly interested in ESG investing. While four in 10 (40%) said their company or organization invests with at least an ESG lens, almost as many (39%) are not engaging in ESG investing but are in the planning process. Those implementing an ESG investment strategy said the most important factors in choosing an investment advisor are having dedicated ESG strategies (70%), dedicated impact investing strategies (68%) and access to ESG analyzes and reports (68%).

Additionally, most executives are optimistic that the growth of ESG investments can have a positive influence on corporate behavior (91%). When it comes to implementing an ESG investing strategy, these executives said avoiding investments that don’t align with your values ​​(86%) is just as important as investing in companies that match your values ​​(90%).

“Our survey clearly shows that for-profit and non-profit organizations view ESG investing as increasingly important, but they also recognize that it is essential that these investment opportunities are fully vetted and effectively aligned with their own values,” Jessiman said.

Kuntz gave examples from his experience with clients.

“We have health care systems that say, ‘We don’t particularly want to invest in tobacco stocks. Our whole job is to keep people healthy, and it seems counter-intuitive that in our investment portfolios we are investing in something that goes against that,” she said. “… Some on the opposite side want to make an impact. They may want to focus on women-owned businesses or organizations that are strongly represented with women on their boards. It can be gender or racial diversity. It can be the environment – ​​either avoiding harm or causing a positive impact.

She added that she has noticed that organizations and individuals are doing more due diligence when it comes to knowing where they will do business and where they will invest their assets and philanthropy. PNC Institutional Asset Management routinely asks organizations to demonstrate their commitment to DEI in a request for proposals before they engage PNC to manage their investments. Similarly, PNC nonprofit clients report that they are asked about their board diversity and the DEI impact of their programs by donors before they contribute.

“To one person, everyone says, ‘Social accountability programs are here to stay. We believe they can be used to have an impact; they’re important to us,’ and that’s what we heard loud and clear,” Kuntz said.

More information on the research findings, including trends in social responsibility, ESG investing, pension plans and financial education, can be found at