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45% believe their organizations aren’t talking enough about impact

NEW YORK CITY (April 25, 2023) — A new national survey from social impact agency Matter Unlimited and The Harris Poll shows the growing importance of better environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and social impact storytelling from organizations. 

The survey, conducted between April 6 and 17, includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 314 senior level executives in the United States at the Vice President level or above, including the C-suite. The respondents work at companies with more than 500 employees and are from a mix of industries and annual revenue.

The Big Deal

Storytelling remains a critical component of an organization’s long-term communications and marketing strategy, but waiting for an annual report to tell that story just doesn’t cut it anymore.

  • 84% of respondents believe it is very important (and 12% reported it was somewhat important) to share stories about their ESG and social impact initiatives beyond an annual report, and 45% of respondents believe their companies aren’t talking enough about those initiatives.
  • 51% of respondents are concerned consumers will misinterpret their ESG initiatives, and 42% believe it will look like they aren’t doing enough.

Yes, but

Balancing impact and profitability is still a concern for many in the business community, especially with the growing backlash against ESG or social impact initiatives from right wing commentators and media, with more than 60% of respondents saying it’s difficult to strike that balance.

Impact storytelling matters

In the survey, respondents were asked about the benefits of telling their impact stories. Reputation enhancements, community engagement, and customer and employee satisfaction all ranked the highest: 

    • 50% believe it highlights the company’s work making a positive impact

    • 48% believe it enhances the company’s reputation

    • 47% believe it makes the company appear more interesting

    • 46% believe it raises awareness of issues in the community

    • 42% believe it increases customer loyalty and attracts new customers

    • 41% believe it keeps employees motivated

The benefits of ESG and impact initiatives are well-documented, including a recent Bain & Company study of 100,000 companies that showed that ESG activities are positively associated with revenue growth and EBITDA margins.

Our view

When it comes to ESG and social impact storytelling, organizations should focus on their progress, not their perfection — or saving only the best stories for an annual report. Tell the macro- and micro-stories that detail your impact journey, and do it often. Utilize both written and visual storytelling and know your stakeholders’ motivations. And, finally, be authentic, humble, and transparent — and bring the receipts.

Go Deeper into The Results:

Learn more about Matter Unlimited’s impact storytelling work for organizations such as Nike, Coursera, Gildan Activewear, and Merck.