Purpose: Using the global financial crisis as a critical event and based on institutional theory and stakeholder theory, this paper aims to explore the relationship between corporate governance and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The question is how stakeholders can influence corporate responses to societal change by using their position in the governance structure. Design/methodology/approach: The analysis is based on a historical analysis of data collected mainly between 2002 and 2004. The historical perspective enables an understanding of the response of the company to environmental changes. Findings: The approach enables researchers to relate the normative component of CSR to specific governance mechanisms. These governance mechanisms are specified in direct and indirect influence pathways. Historical data shed light on how, in the upbeat of the crisis, stakeholders have influenced the principles and policies of the ING Group, a Dutch financial company. Research limitations/implications: The paper suggests that stakeholders influence principles – normative assumptions that guide corporate decisions – mainly in dialogue-based meetings (direct influence pathways). Companies are made accountable in indirect influence pathways such as regulations. The author also demonstrates that a historical approach enables an understanding of long-term historical developments and the linking of corporate policies to the normative assumptions of stakeholders. Practical implications: If stakeholders wish to assess the social responsibility of a company, then they should assess the governance structure in relation to the principles and policies. The power structure within a company and that within the institutional framework in which the company operates (the governance system) strongly influences how a company executes its social responsibilities. Social implications: The paper demonstrates how stakeholders can use the governance structure to influence a bank. If society – or a specific group in society – wants banks to play a different role, this paper points to what could be the levers of change in the governance system and the governance structure. Originality/value: Insights into the complex relationship between corporate governance and the processes in which the social responsibilities of a company are developed.