When we think of corporate social responsibility, often the first thing that comes to mind is large corporations and their massive sponsorship and charity donation programs. But that’s not the only way CSR can work.
Let’s take a look at why you should introduce Corporate Social Responsibility into your business.
Why should I care about Corporate Social Responsibility?
Having CSR measures in place can bring myriad benefits to your business.
As customers become increasingly savvy, they want to know more about what’s behind the brands they’re supporting. If they know you give money to a local charity or only use refurbished tech, they’d favour you over a close competitor. In a 2019 report from FleishmanHillard Fishburn, 80 per cent of respondents said that they are prepared to stop using a company’s product or service if their response to an issue doesn’t align with their own views.
If your CSR actions are more focused on staff – say, paying on or above the Real Living Wage – it will not only help you retain employees for longer, but it could help attract high-quality candidates to your business.
It’ll likely help you to attract investors, too. More and more are looking to put their money into businesses with a conscience. Companies with CSR policies are also deemed to be more transparent and trustworthy by investors.
Now, adopting CSR can sound daunting, not to mention costly. Small and medium businesses don’t necessarily have deep pockets, but we’re often scrappy, creative and already thinking outside the box.
But we’re genuine when we do CSR; we simply don’t have the resources to waste on pure PR. It has to mean something to us to be worthwhile. Not only that, but our conviction that we have something different to offer the business world often extends to the world in general: we believe we can change things – and we’re willing to prove it.
How does that approach translate into CSR? There are lots of ways to incorporate Corporate Social Responsibility into your business. The main areas tend to be focused around:
- Environmental issues
- Employee wellbeing
- Social issues
- Volunteering and charitable work
As the founder of two small businesses, I have lots of thoughts on the topic. But instead of just sharing my own approach, I decided to reach out to others.
From their responses, I learned that small business CSR falls into several categories. Here are just a few.
1. Pro bono and discounted work
First up is discounted work which can be especially beneficial in times such as COVID-19 when businesses and consumers are struggling. This could be in the form of cheaper software or money off services.
Keri Jaehnig runs Idea Girl Media, a boutique social media and content marketing agency in Wilmington, Ohio. She says although her agency doesn’t have a formal CSR policy, “since I started the business, we have always prioritised giving back and sending the elevator back down.” Among other things, Idea Girl has offered complimentary services that pair with paid services as part of a package during economic recessions.
Another great example is MarketBox, a firm that provides online sales automation software for mobile and virtual service businesses. CEO Diana Goodwin says, “We want to help jumpstart the economy and we believe that starts with helping entrepreneurs launch more businesses. We’ve been offering extended software trials and discounts. We’re proud that we’ve been able to help launch businesses founded by black, indigenous and female entrepreneurs including mobile beauty services, in-home chefs and virtual tutoring businesses.”
That also translates into another type of CSR that’s tightly connected to our work.
“As a woman, I help those who are just thinking or wishing to start a business. That you could be in the grocery store or at a networking meeting. I’m paying it forward as a thanks to those who believed in me when I was starting out,” says Ann Marie van den Hurk of Mind the Gap PR, based in Newport, Rhode Island, which serves clients all over the globe.
MELLOHAWK Logistics Inc. owners Peter Hawkins and Arnon Melo also provide mentorship, particularly in the aim of helping newcomers navigate the job market—and they hire lots of their mentees. Their efforts stem from their core beliefs: “We support the Black Lives Matter movement as we learn about our own privilege and implicit bias. We support greater immigration and freedom of migration. We support protection of LGBTQ2 rights.”
These business leaders aren’t the only ones. Many respondents said they lend a hand to younger folks in their fields. It seems to come with the territory of running a small business—not only do we know our respective fields and niches, but we also know how to run a company. It’s a double whammy of expertise.
3. In-kind donations
It doesn’t just have to be financial assistance, nor is help limited to other businesses.
Gary Lee of Thirty Three Percent, a UK-based marketing firm that specialises in working with small business owners, provides in-kind donations in the form of teaching. “We decided from the start that we’d give a certain number of workshops or courses to struggling businesses for free, as part of giving a little back,” he says. When a second COVID-19 lockdown arrived, the firm decided to offer free marketing workshops to any small and local business that was facing difficulties.
Here’s an example with a twist: Jayesh Patel runs Progressive, a UK management consultancy firm based in the Greater Manchester Area that specialises in working with high-growth SMEs. “I was lucky enough to win £3,000 worth of advertising from an initiative run by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) and the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, Metro and i newspapers,” he says. “I used the national advertising to offer SMEs throughout the UK £2,000 worth of free consultancy advice during the pandemic.” Talk about a win-win situation!
4. Advocacy work and charity efforts outside our fields
Sometimes our CSR is not directly related to our area of business.
Another businessperson with a far-reaching CSR ethic is speaker and business developer Louis Barnett, who until 2015 ran Chokolit, a chocolate manufacturing business, based in Staffordshire. “For me,” he says, “CSR falls into two distinct categories: people who genuinely care, and people who want to appear to care. I have always felt a heartfelt obligation to help and protect the world I live in. For me, it is not a question of should I, but more, how could I not?”
During his time at the helm of Chokolit, he says the company ensured donations of a minimum of 10 per cent of their profits to NGOs and organisations focused on conservation through both land and species protection.
Barnett praises brands that place sustainability and social responsibility at their core. “Today, 45 per cent of UK shoppers are actively interested in buying products which are much better for our planet,” he says. “The scales need to be rebalanced for us all to take up the challenge of making the world a better place, starting with our own business and expanding outwardly.”
As you can see, as SMEs, our CSR efforts are incredibly diverse—just like we are.
More on Best Business Decisions:
- Michelle Gill – Using a pension to fund the business after war upheaval
- Kevin Taylor – Providing ‘duvet days’ to increase staff retention
- Eric Collins – Encouraging employee engagement to boost creativity
How can I create a Corporate Social Responsibility policy for my business?
Start by checking what you do already that could fall under CSR – perhaps you’ve done away with single- use plastics or committed to increasing diversity in your company. Is there any way you can expand on your current actions?
Next, think about what further actions you could take on that feel authentic to your business. For example, if you run a pet shop and there’s an animal shelter in the same town, consider encouraging employees to volunteer at the shelter. Think about how actions like this align with your business’ own values.
Writing up your policy is the toughest part. Remember to keep your goals measurable and realistic – both for you and your team. At this point it’s also worth thinking about where the policy will appear. Will it have a dedicated page on your website or be downloadable? Will there be a physical copy available?
Once you’ve got a policy, review it regularly. A yearly performance review is a good idea. From there, assess how well you’ve done and then set your Corporate Social Responsibility goals for the coming year.