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How United Way Enables Businesses to Achieve Their Corporate Social Responsibility Goals

A Q&A with Kelem Butts, our new vice president of CSR strategy

May 23, 2023

At United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, we lead a community-wide movement to improve access to education, income and health. We bring together the corporate, philanthropic, civic and nonprofit sectors, as well as individual change-seekers, to achieve strategic goals for North Texas.

This collaborative approach to community impact work is unique—in fact, it’s why we’re called United Way.

An important part of our strategy involves partnering with corporations that are committed to improving the communities in which their employees live and work. Our corporate partners, companies like Texas Instruments, PepsiCo and AT&T, are deeply invested in our mission to improve access to education, income and health and bringing greater equity to North Texas.

Kelem Butts, United Way’s vice president of CSR strategy

Indeed, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is the trusted corporate social responsibility (CSR) partner for dozens of corporations across North Texas. And together with these leading businesses, we’re making a meaningful impact in our communities.

This year, our team welcomed its first vice president of CSR strategy, Kelem Butts. Kelem was previously with AT&T as a member of their CSR team for more than 13 years. In his new role, he’s working closely with local companies to align their CSR goals with our Aspire United 2030 goals—our 10-year roadmap for advancing racial equity and driving lasting impact in education, income and health for our community.

Read our Q&A with Kelem as he describes the basics of CSR, why it’s an important focus for North Texas businesses and how United Way works with our corporate partners to meet their CSR goals.

Tell us a bit about your background and how you came to join United Way.

Kelem: I started my career in 1989 right out of college. Until now, I was 100% corporate. I spent the previous 22 years with AT&T, the last 13 of which were with the CSR organization. Then, two things happened. First, I became retirement eligible and was ready for a career change. Secondly, I had done work with United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and realized that this would be a great landing place for me. I believe in the mission, I love how United Way has evolved over time and it’s great to be able to make an impact in the Dallas area.

How do you define corporate social responsibility, and what do you believe are the key components of an effective CSR program?

Kelem: If you ask 10 CSR people to give a definition of CSR, you’ll get 10 different answers. Here’s how I think about it: It’s the work that a company does that impacts both the company and society. Think of a Venn diagram with two overlapping circles—one is the needs of society and the other is the needs of business—and the intersection area in the middle is where CSR is focused.

An effective CSR program should truly align with the company’s goals, otherwise it’s difficult to get full buy-in from the company. Many companies do materiality assessments to determine alignment with all stakeholders, which generally includes the communities where they live and work. The materiality should influence those CSR initiatives.

Why is CSR increasingly important for North Texas companies?

Kelem: I would argue that well-run companies have paid attention to CSR for a long time, it just wasn’t called that. Today, many investors look at a company’s focus on CSR as a proxy for a well-run company. In other words, a robust CSR program indicates they are addressing the needs of their stakeholders, including the communities where they are, the broader society, investors, employees and more. Additionally, a well-run company wants to ensure their long-term viability, and they understand you’ve got to support your communities—it’s the right thing to do and the smart thing.

In your opinion, what role should nonprofits play in promoting CSR, and how can organizations like United Way best work with businesses to drive positive change?

Kelem: In my opinion, nonprofits work best to drive positive change by clearly understanding their mission and working within the community to address the needs of their constituents. This does not always align perfectly with the needs of the company. But I think honesty and clarity are always best practices, so it’s important to make sure both sides understand up front what is possible and what is not.

Timelines are important to understand as well; companies and nonprofits may have different ideas of when an initiative can be completed. And lastly, a nonprofit must be willing to work with the company on stories of how the work is making an impact. Frequently, companies want to tout the work they’re doing in the communities where they’re located.

Why is United Way of Metropolitan Dallas such a strong CSR resource?

Kelem: How much time do I have? First of all, United Way of Metropolitan Dallas has such a long history of working with corporations and a great understanding of their needs. And no one has a stronger connection to the broader community than United Way: We have relationships with hundreds of other nonprofits in our area, so we can connect the priorities of almost any company to a nonprofit.

United Way’s intense focus on long-term impact through our Aspire United 2030 goals is so appealing to companies. So is our mission around improving access to education, income and health—the building blocks of opportunity—and the way we’ve formulated our goals. (At Procter and Gamble I was trained about the importance of SMAC objectives—specific, measurable, achievable, concise—and that’s exactly what United Way has done).

Furthermore, United Way has compiled a board of directors with some of the greatest corporate minds in the area, including vice chair Charlene Lake, SVP of CSR and chief sustainability officer of AT&T, who I would argue is one of the best CSR leaders in the country.

How do companies measure the impact of their CSR efforts?

Kelem: Many companies measure different impacts, but the well-run ones are indeed looking at measurable impact. They look for return on investment (ROI) on their business investments, right? For CSR they are looking for “social ROI.” When I was at AT&T, Charlene Lake used to ask a very simple question: “What are we getting for our investment?” In other words, she wanted to be able to tell the board for every $100 invested in society, we’re seeing some sort of positive societal return. That is hard to do and to quantify, but a lot of companies are really starting to think about measurement in that way. Of course there are other metrics, but everyone should be thinking of that concept of social ROI, in my opinion.

Examples of Our Corporate Partnerships in Action

Industry leaders across North Texas have chosen to invest in United Way’s community impact because we understand that corporate philanthropy is a key driver in achieving business continuity, productivity and profitability goals. In the last year alone, we’ve partnered with organizations big and small to drive measurable, meaningful impact in ways that directly align with the corporate and philanthropic goals of our partners.

Consider the social innovation and impact represented by these programs:

  • With AT&T, we created the Digital Connections program to support our neighbors in Southern Dallas who lack a computer to narrow the digital divide. This investment has resulted in the distribution of more than 2,000 laptops to families, as well as bilingual digital training and support.
  • For Texas Instruments, building stronger communities through employee engagement is a top priority. As the overarching sponsor of our annual volunteer series, TI and its employees dedicated hundreds of volunteer hours to improving access to education, income and health in North Texas.
  • With PepsiCo/Frito-Lay, place-based investments in Southern Dallas to support historically under-resourced neighborhoods led to the creation of Southern Dallas Thrives, a partnership with United Way. The goals of the initiative include providing families with nutritious meals, improving the quality of preschool education, preparing high school students for college or career, and providing supportive services and workforce development training in high-growth industries to women.
  • Together with Hilti, which faced a growing shortage of skilled workers, we created the Women in Construction program, which trains and places women into high-wage construction jobs and develops a pipeline to fill critical job openings for the company.

Learn More About Partnering With Us

United Way of Metropolitan Dallas is proud to partner with companies of all sizes and industries to advance racial equity and drive lasting change in North Texas. We have the relationships, data and expertise to help you build and strengthen your culture of good citizenship and corporate social responsibility.

Interested in learning more? Visit our Partner With Us page to discover some of the ways we work with corporate partners and to connect with our team.


Partner With United Way

Join the hundreds of companies who Lead United to drive lasting change in North Texas. Connect with our team to discover how United Way can support your organization’s philanthropic and social responsibility goals.