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    Four Contexts for the Social Worker as Consultant (5th in Series)



    Launching and sustaining any business depends on three things: Development of a brand, marketing of brand, and truth in advertising. In other words, first, you have to come up with something to sell. Second, people have to hear about and understand what you are offering. Third, your product or service has to work for them if they are going to tell their friends about it. For the social worker as consultant, this counsel can be seen as an organizing structure for the development of your expertise.

    The first step, developing a brand, will naturally stem from the contexts in which you wish to practice. Each has unique challenges with internal integration, external adaptation, and coping with new external environments. The successful social worker as consultant will create solutions as products that provide credibility and a clear mechanism for consulting on individual interventions and organizational innovations.

    Marketing of the brand is best achieved by word of mouth, but some contexts have other specific idiosyncrasies that provide unique marketing opportunities. Consultants who use marketing resources with efficacy will reap greater returns on investment.

    Communicating truth in advertising will increase your word of mouth marketing. People promote what they believe in. You must deliver what you promise. To achieve this, the social worker as consultant must draw on a popular professional refrain: evidence-based practice. Not only should you seek out and integrate proven techniques into your practice, you must assess the context you are working in, evaluate your practice, and disseminate new techniques specifically suited for a specific context. Each context provides you with an opportunity to produce a case study, evaluation report, or training manual to exemplify your competence.


    Coaching comes in a number of flavors toward personal, professional, or a personal-professional mix of outcomes. The focus can be on increasing success in business, management, career, relationships, sales, or other endeavors. The International Coach Federation ( is a good place to start for more information on coaching. They define coaching

    “as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential” (

    Social workers may fulfill this role. Coaching is not regulated either by title or licensure in most jurisdictions, but social workers will find a niche in emphasis on elements of the social work code of ethics in their coaching practice. Section 3 of the code covers the social worker’s ethical responsibility in practice settings. That is, get the training you need to do the job. Section 6 of the code covers the social worker’s ethical responsibility to the larger society. That is, promote equal access and prevent exploitation.

    Challenges & Solutions

    The social worker, especially at the Master level, will do well to articulate a difference between therapy and coaching, especially in the context of state licensure. Consider among other differences that therapy involves diagnosis utilizing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), while coaching does not. State certification boards may be of some help. For example, Tennessee wrote its multi-level licensure law to distinguish between what it calls “clinical social work,” which applies the DSM, and “advanced practice,” which does not utilize the DSM. Find your state’s documentation at

    Solve this challenge while maintaining awareness that the human behavior and change process education you have received as a social worker is invaluable to coaching interactions. A model such as the Generalist Intervention Model (GIM) promoted by Kirst-Ashman and Hull (2006) provides seven steps that fit a coaching intervention: Engagement, Assessment, Planning, Implementation, Evaluation, Termination, and Follow-up.

    Section 1 of the social work code of ethics details the social worker’s ethical responsibility to the client. The social worker as coach is still bound by mandatory reporting requirements. Best practices such as leading the initial interaction with a statement of confidentiality and reasons for breaking confidentiality will still apply. Disclose conflicts of interest, maintain privacy, and inform your clients toward sustainable self-determination.

    One lesson in the variety of social work practice contexts is that process and outcomes are important. This can serve the social worker well in coaching practice inspiring innovative ways to utilize technology and environments to build the client experience. Technology tools (i.e. skype, email, online services) can be used to deliver coaching and receive payment. For example, an MSW at Inner Ambiance ( coaches via skype, email or phone and receives payment via PayPal. Environments can also be used to provide a setting for coaching. You will hear about zip lines, rope courses, rock climbing, and share circles in wilderness retreats or adventure therapy.


    Consider the marketing opportunities. You could take the interdisciplinary approach and offer package-deals: combining health & wellness, life coaching, fashion consulting, and career counseling. Mom and Home-preneurs is another popular market: a market hungry for entrepreneurial training. Consider that banks have a vested interest in the financial health & literacy of its patrons. They may fund your coaching program.

    Evidence-based Practice

    How about these ideas for production:

    • Interdisciplinary Holistic Coaching Intervention.
    • Entrepreneurship as a Family Effort.
    • Financing Your Health and Well-Being.


    Membership associations form when people organize around a specific interest or purpose. Day-to-day operations are managed by a chief executive officer, sometimes called an executive director. Associations often have an elected board consisting of a President and cabinet—Vice president, treasurer, secretary, etc. Though the board typically has authority over the executive director, membership associations often hire directors whose long tenure with the association creates a partnering work environment between the executive director and the board.

    Challenges & Solutions

    The larger they are (or aspire to be) the more dispersed the membership will be. Dispersed membership means that communicating events, voting for elections, and other member services can reach individual members in non-standard ways. Effective membership organizations standardize their communication while seeking to maintain an individualized feeling on the part of the member.

    A portal website can be an elegant solution to this challenge. The opportunity exists for the social worker as consultant to implement technology that allows the member to interface securely with the knowledge base of the association. This is admittedly a task for a social worker who brings tech savvy as a skill.

    Yet, the ability to understand the actual process and map the needs for information management and sharing can be as useful as actual technology skills. Social workers who are skilled in process mapping can outline the implementation of technology solutions. Add a techy to your team to program or support the open source solutions and your demand as a consultant will increase.

    Membership associations are typically staffed by volunteers or part-time employees. From the perspective of the association, these staff must maintain a consistent level of preparedness and ability to respond the needs of members. Turnover makes maintenance of this consistency eve more difficult.

    The social worker as consultant is able to use the familiar role of evaluator to map the process of the association. He/she can then use the role of educator to create training materials for new volunteers and staff. The consultant may also organize continuing education, training sessions, volunteer appreciation and employee incentive programs that support staff retention.

    Perhaps more than other organizations, membership associations have big dreams, made comparatively bigger because of the resources typically available to achieve those dreams. The social worker as consultant can borrow on systems knowledge to perform a social network analysis identifying potential partnerships that complement the association’s goals. He/she may also develop expertise in negotiating partnerships and drafting a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that governs each partnership. The goal is to redistribute and grow resources by more efficient usage, sharing, and the elimination of duplication.


    Membership associations have a well-defined audience. Consulting offerings can be specifically tailored to the association and its members. Consider the population targeted by the association and the message the association intends for their brand.

    Understand the value-added preoccupation of the association. That is, the “benefits of membership” it wants to communicate to members. If your consulting offering adds value to members, it represents win-win for you and the association.

    Membership associations attempt to personalize the member experience while simultaneously delivering efficiency in resource usage. Because of this they have a greater than average technology need.  If you know how to utilize websites, blogs, Content Management Software, or perform Search Engine Optimization, social media integration, or create mobile apps, great. If you offer expertise that addresses the technology needs, you have an in with associations.

    Evidence-based Practice

    Consider the following opportunities for development of Consulting Best Practice Documents:

    • Partnering for Niche and Branding
    • Marketing to association members: Techniques to add Value
    • Automation Tools and Best Practices for associations.
    • Social media and CMS for associations.


    Faith-based congregations are an especially complex context for the social worker as consultant. These entities have the organizational structures and needs of any non-profit, but also have affiliate structures, believe systems, and often liturgical practices that impact organizational management. They are made up of families from across the lifespan, adding another level of complexity.

    Challenges & Solutions

    Faith-based congregations continually wrestle with the perception of diminishing relevance. As an institution that values the examples of the past, it is sometimes hard for these organizations to respond to new external environments. The members of the congregation risk insistence on maintenance of the status quo even while the status quo fails to meet the mission.

    The solution is to co-opt community development models like social capital and capacity building. The social worker as consultant may offer to organize an augmentation of the typical liturgical schedule. Special speakers may be scheduled with attending family-focused activities integrating faith and community service, financial stewardship, individual giftedness, parenting teens or other issues germane to the external environment. You may also offer needs assessment services to assess the needs of the external environment.

    Faith-based congregations also wrestle with the challenge of youth engagement. Congregations are at risk of losing the wellspring of congregational vibrancy—a continual influx of young people. The risk is greater when the congregation lacks creative ways to engage the community where it is located.

    The social worker as consultant can assist the congregation in a visioning exercise that clarifies and revitalizes their mission. It is often helpful for congregations to face the community with a mission of social justice and the creation of good in their every-day spaces: family, work life, recreation, etc. This means finding ways to provide information, space, and other resources directly targeting those aspects of community life.

    Lack of new models may be another concern steeped in allegiance to traditions. Faith-based congregations, especially those who value an evangelical mandate, may only conceptualize one or two ways to reach out to persons who are not members of a faith community.

    The social worker as consultant can help congregations to redefine evangelism as the activity of supporting individuals toward increased self-sufficiency through group leverage, participation, and shared investment. That is, a congregation of members can achieve more than an individual along. The mechanisms of the faith community can be intentionally ordered to communicate this corporate opportunity.


    More than one model of congregation exists. Models exist with various goals relative to faith practice, commitment, and liturgy. Models range from seeding, nurturing, to germinating. The consultant with expertise in matching the model with the congregation will be able to reinvigorate congregations as the external environment of the community changes.

    Innovations from within are also an important opportunity. The social worker as consultant may be called upon to assist members to articulate the changes they want to see. Tools may include spiritual gifts inventories, leadership training, and social network analysis (especially toward utilizing cliques to identify special interest segments of the congregation).

    Supported by hope and belief in what is not seen, faith-based congregations may offer a perpetual fountain of community development. As consultant, you can help these organizations hone their focus in social justice, peace, social good, altruism, mediation, community development, youth development, addictions recovery, family intervention, and so much more. They bring the inspiration and the certainty of success. You bring the ability to clarify vision, script an action plan, market, monitor, and evaluate success.

    Evidence-based Practice

    Consider the following products you may create as your expertise:

    • Do your part of the Great Commission: what’s your niche
    • Guide to innovating your Congregation.
    • Marketing the Social Good: methods to communicate goals.


    Non-profits are unique consulting contexts because of how they use revenue, the staff they employ, and the populations they typically serve. As with other organizations, successful consultation hinges upon an understanding of the mission and operations. What sets non-profits apart is their governance and funding structures. The social worker as consultant will want to make clear whether he/she is working at the pleasure of the board, the executive director, or a project manager. This helps you know your audience and it will impact your preparation for contract presentations and deliverable presentations. It is also important to know whether the contract is funded through grants. If it is, there may be money for travel, expenses, or mandates specific to the funder that may inform your contract proposal and negotiations.

    Challenges & Solutions

    Many non-profits are great in the business of doing and not so efficient in the art of training and equipping staff. This offers an opportunity to the social worker as consultant. You will be in demand if you demonstrate that you can develop a system of training as a method of sustaining staff, board, and donors.

    Non-profits carry a large documentation burden. Though many complete their federal and state paperwork, they are often less diligent in maintaining documentation that can be used to inform other stakeholders and improve efficiencies. Non-profits are busy providing services and often do not effectively maintain information like building plans, annual reports, newspaper clippings, client impact stories, intervention effectiveness evaluation, and daily operation information like client wait times. A consultant who could computerize the process evaluation and automate collection of this data would be valuable to a non-profit.

    Another feature of a non-profit is the intentional correcting of the problem that necessitated the non-profit. That is, non-profits intend to work themselves out of a job. You can observe this on a curve as decreased capacity to sustain gains. As time goes on, data like number of people served tend to level off. The solution is to employ other data both to make the case for continued intervention, and to inform changes in mission that address new needs.

    The social worker as consultant can evaluate hidden costs and hidden sources of operational data by mapping the step-by-step process through the program, identifying data that is available, and tracking it via computer. Be careful not to waste (especially data, the most bountiful resource.) The skilled consultant can utilize data to leverage new funding and revenue streams.


    Staff development is a huge market in non-profits. Professionalizing, certifying, and continuing education of staff is important because of turnover and changing environments. Changes in population, regulations, best practices and more can necessitate new training.

    The social worker as consultant can be instrumental in bringing elements of social entrepreneurship to non-profits. The goal is to create a mechanism for production that complements the service provision of the non-profit. The non-profits own proven best practices can be compiled into training for sale to other non-profits or educational institutions.

    Adding a production element to service provision can diversify the fundraising of a non-profit. The social worker as consultant can articulate mechanisms for revenue generation from production, donor-base, and grant funding streams. The most successful examples of this principle employ clients in the production element as a function of the non-profit services.  In this way, the sustaining of the non-profit and service to the client is a structural win-win.

    Evidence-based Practice

    Consider these production possibilities:

    • Services Training & Continuing Education
    • Sustainability: Non-profits that produce products
    • Diversification in Fundraising Primer
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    Dr. Michael Wright: Michael A. Wright, PhD, LAPSW is a Social Work Helper Contributor. He offers his expertise as an career coach, serial entrepreneur, and publisher through MAWMedia Group, LLC. Wright has maintained this macro practice consultancy since 1997. Wright lives in Reno, NV.


    Network Successfully By Asking Five Smart Questions



    The only thing I ever got from a networking event was a stack of business cards until I changed my mindset. When I was a new social worker, I underestimated the value of connections related to my ability to boost my social work income. I only thought that networking could improve my upward mobility. Now as a seasoned social work veteran, I understand that networking is a tool for building meaningful business relationships. Meaningful business relationships fundamentally increase opportunities to boost social work income using part-time jobs or second gigs.

    Trainings, workshops, or association meetings are the easiest venues for social workers to connect with other social workers. Social workers should also consider events that are not exclusively sponsored by or for the social work profession. Non-social work events provide an expanded opportunity to meet like-minded people outside of the profession. Plan to increase your chances for success. Begin by asking the following question.

    What networking outcome do I want to achieve by attending this event?

    Answering this question outlines your primary focus for participating in the event. Attending a training or seminar enables you to earn Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for licensure purposes and professional development. Earning CEUs, in this example is the outcome that you pay to achieve.  If you have thoughts of collaborating with other social work professionals, the training environment connects you with other social workers who have similar interests in that specific subject.

    A meet and greet networking event allows you to interact with professionals at various levels of their careers. Keynote speakers and experts attend promoting their products, services or theories. Hundreds of professionals exchange business cards and information about their ventures. These large events sound promising, but can also cause frustration. Many people try to speak to the headliners in an attempt to sell themselves. Headliners are those individuals who are extremely successful in their specific field. When their name is spoken, people acknowledge their expertise and work.

    At networking events, headliners are surrounded by people who want something from them. It may be an autograph, a picture, a job or a mentorship. They limit the amount of time they spend with those who are not at their level. They place a monetary value on their time and know how to preserve their time, energy and expertise.  This is a lesson social workers should learn. Your time has a monetary value and you can waste time and effort at networking events without research and strategic planning.

    Who are the influencers in the headliner’s circle? How can I build a connection with them? 

    This question can be answered with a little research. You almost always guarantee yourself an opportunity to meet and speak with a headline by building a business relationship with those in the headliner’s circle. Successful networking is precipitated on communicating win-win outcomes. Each person wants to feel they are gaining from the interaction. This is another reason that knowing your outcome and having a plan makes sense.

    How many colleagues will I approach?

    Once you are in the environment, the fourth question you should ask addresses how to achieve your desired networking outcome.  Set a goal for yourself related to the number of people you plan to approach. You are more likely to talk to others if you set a goal before you arrive.  You may also develop an estimate prior to arriving. Set your estimate using knowledge of the advertised business areas or topics. You may also reassess the goal based on your observations during the event. Do not underestimate the opportunity to talk with others while waiting in line.

    Estimating the number of attendees by business area or topic will help you establish a reasonable goal for interactions. Having a strategy for initiating interactions is also important. Start by talking to the individuals sitting near you. Beyond the basics, ask them how they plan to use the information or how they plan to integrate it into their current work. This moves the chatting from small talk to meaningful conversation.  Listen more than you talk to show your interest. Also, share your plans for using the information. Ask probing questions, as appropriate to help you decide if you want to explore connecting on a professional level.

    Does this information resonate with my professional vision, mission, and goals?

    While this question sounds self-serving, it saves time and effort. Social workers who want to boost their income using part-time work and second gigs know the value of time. They, like headliners, set a monetary value to their time. If the person with whom you are talking does not appear to have a congruent vision, politely move on.

    Meet and greet networking events are very similar to speed dating events. Smart questions, smart answers and strategic planning facilitate getting the outcome you desire. If you are not hearing things that resonate with your vision, mission or goals, then move on. Always remember that just because you want to build a relationship, it doesn’t mean the other person reciprocates. Recognize and respect the signs and signals you receive.

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    How to Turn Your Social Media Followers into Active Donors



    In marketing, we know that carefully curated and compelling content moves people.

    We see this every day on social media, where viral campaigns compel people to take action every day.

    There’s no doubt that well-crafted social media content can turn followers into active donors. Nonprofit fundraising campaigns have raised millions of dollars, such as Charity: Water with $1.8 million and the ALS ice bucket challenge with $115 million.

    The good news is that powerful content can be harnessed to activate a nonprofit’s social media followers to take action and give.

    The not-so-good news? Creating and curating compelling content isn’t always easy.

    But it’s important—even critical—for nonprofits to maintain active and engaging social media accounts not only to raise awareness and build brand, but to also drive donations.

    Social is Everywhere and Everything

    Experts project that there will be three billion social media users by next year. That’s close to half the global population.

    A good chunk of social media users are known to check in sometimes by the hour or even the minute on top sites like Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter.

    While people of all ages use social media, there’s no doubt that younger generations are typically the first adopters.

    This is important for nonprofits, because younger people use social media to support and donate to their favorite causes. According to this blog post, 43% of millennials made charitable contributions through social media compared to other channels.

    Nonprofit Source also finds that 55% of people who engage with nonprofits on social media take some sort of action, such as donation.

    Knowing this, how can a nonprofit fundraising team turn social media followers into active donors?

    Tips on How to Activate Donors to Give to Your Nonprofit through Social Media

    You gain followers by posting content consistently daily or twice a day.

    Your content should include a healthy mix of inspirational videos, photo features, donor spotlights, action alerts, motivating statistics, memes and more. Your content can include direct appeals for donations too. Just make sure to balance them with other content.

    To build your following faster, consider devoting some budget to sponsoring content, including boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram. Boosting posts can cost as little as $25 for a campaign and can allow you to target specific users, ensuring that your posts wind up at the top of the right people’s feeds.

    You accomplished the seemingly impossible: you built a following of engaged fans on your social media pages.

    But they’re not giving.

    How do you convert these loyal social media followers into active donors ready to give?

    Awaken and engage your social media followers with calls to action. Create content that tells your story through video and animated gifs. Suggest they give even a small amount to your campaign to help solve the problems you’ve illustrated. Remind them that every little bit helps. Most importantly, make it as easy as possible for them to give.

    Make Action Easy
    If you’ve succeeded in moving your social media followers to take action, but then made it impossible for them to donate easily online, you’ve lost a big opportunity to raise funds.

    Make the process of donating in a few clicks safe, secure and seamless. Add an easy-to-use, secure donation management plugin like DonorBox to your website and directly link to your donation appeal on your social pages so your followers can donate in a couple clicks.

    Make It Shareable
    Understand the psychology behind social sharing and tweak your content to see what your followers are most likely to share. You’ll not only increase your following, but also inspire your new fans to follow their friends’ lead and also make donations to your cause.

    Coming up with a creative campaign with inspiring events, videos and strategic hashtags around a moving theme can also turn those lurkers among your followers into active donors ready to share and give.

    The shelf life of a social media post is only a few days or weeks at best.

    This means that even if you’ve had a huge success, it’ll just be a matter of time before your viral campaign is a distant memory for most people.

    Try to maintain your followers’ interest by creating different types of social media campaigns that can be run seasonally. Think strategically and make data-based decisions. Test different ideas to see what works best. Study the analytics made available by the different platforms to see who is engaging and sharing.

    This Medium blog post offers some helpful tips for strategic ways to maximize fundraising through social media.

    One not-so-small caveat: while it may seem like raising more than a million dollars via a viral social media campaign is the be all, end all of fundraising, you may be cannibalizing other fundraising efforts in your success. The best thing you can do is weave a social media component into an omni-channel campaign. Social media may be just one element of your fundraising strategy, and that’s okay.

    Want more? These five successful nonprofits got it right using social media to drive donations.

    About DonorBox
    Used by more than 20,000 organizations from 25 countries, DonorBox is a donation platform centered around the fundraising needs of nonprofits by offering a state-of-the-art, recurring donation plugin that can be seamlessly embedded into a website or with a popup widget, allowing nonprofit organizations to accept monthly recurring donations managed by the donors themselves.

    View a live example and sign up for free at

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    Corporate Social Responsibility Is More Than a Marketing Ploy



    For-profit companies traditionally operated within a set of rules dictated by the government, such as collecting and paying taxes or meeting state and federal regulations. Everyone accepted profit maximization as the goal, and it didn’t really matter how companies managed to achieve that mission.

    Today, many judge companies based on their broader impacts and whether they contribute to beneficial change. It’s definitely a positive shift, but new businesses must strike a delicate balance: Too much of a focus on corporate social responsibility (CSR) for a new brand over the effectiveness of the product or service can actually damage brand appeal. Researchers at North Carolina State University found that consumers view new brands as less enticing when their key messages focus on CSR more than the benefits of their products, even if they donate money to good causes.

    While consumers want to support brands that give back to the world, they are more concerned about the efficacy of new products. And who can blame them? Nobody wants to spend hard-earned money on a subpar product. When product quality is equal but one item comes from a company with a social mission, customers are more likely to choose the company with a focus on CSR, though.

    Patagonia stands out as an excellent example of effective CSR. The company aggressively incorporates environmental causes into its corporate DNA — and its customer base is just as aggressively loyal. Volkswagen, on the other hand, went out of its way to greenwash its corporate image by promoting “clean diesel” while flagrantly violating federal emissions laws with nitrogen-oxide emissions (a smog-forming pollutant linked to lung cancer). The disparity between VW’s mission and its actions had steep consequences.

    Finding the Right Fit

    CSR should be authentic to the soul of an organization — it should not be an add-on or a marketing ploy. Before committing to CSR, brands need to survey potential customers and brand ambassadors to ensure they focus on the right initiative.

    For smaller companies and startups, this could constitute a more informal process of casual interviews with a few dozen people coupled with the founders’ personal goals. Established companies will want to undergo more extensive research that includes surveys and in-depth focus groups with employees, customers, and potential customers. In both cases, companies must confirm that the CSR initiative resonates with potential customers while identifying any concerns that could alienate critical groups. Without genuine authenticity, it’s only a matter of time before an initiative fails — it’s imperative that the CSR mission resonates with the company, its staff, and its executives.

    Patagonia earned plenty of attention in 2016 for donating 100 percent of its profits from Black Friday sales to environmental groups. By literally putting its money — more than $10 million, in fact — where its mouth is, Patagonia proved its dedication to protecting natural resources. Considering a large swath of Patagonia’s clientele is environmentally conscious, that single day of sales truly resonated with brand loyalists.

    Once a company pinpoints the CSR initiative that meshes with its identity, its leaders must articulate the CSR mission internally and externally. That mission will likely evolve, but it should be authentic to ensure long-term success. A genuine effort at CSR initiatives can be a great way to motivate and empower employees.

    Internal CSR messaging focuses on culture and creating a universal message across the company. Everyone should understand the overlap between the CSR initiative and the company’s mission, as well as how the initiative affects every employee’s role. Externally, brands must simplify this messaging into an easy-to-understand version for consumers.

    I’ve had to tackle this challenge with my own company, 2920 Sleep. We have boiled down our CSR focus to three elements: a commitment to product quality, excellent customer service, and 1% for the Planet. We aspire to make high-quality, long-lasting products that will have a reduced environmental impact with lower return rates; take care of our customers with great service; and stay financially successful so we can channel one percent of our revenue to support organizations that protect the environment. Our commitment to product quality and customer service enables us to support our CSR initiative. This mission is driven by everyone at the company — from our leadership and marketing teams to our customer service department and our brand ambassadors.

    More than anything else, brands should ensure the CSR narrative is a part of the corporate culture. Think again of the difference between Patagonia and VW. Patagonia’s founder, management team, and employees all actively support its mission. VW, meanwhile, has lost brand integrity and market share, and its executives face significant fines and possible jail time.

    Consumers can spot the difference between pretenders and companies that are committed to a mission. CSR offers an opportunity to pivot a business from a purely financial operation to an organization that recognizes its ability to help a wider community in addition to meeting financial goals. With a balanced approach to CSR and business goals, companies can truly shine.

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