You may read about large corporations making substantial charitable contributions and wonder how small businesses can make a difference. Even though the budgets may be smaller, professional services companies and other small businesses can also benefit from a thoughtful and strategic corporate social responsibility (CSR) plan.
Remind me, what is CSR exactly?
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a business approach that contributes to sustainable development by delivering economic, social and environmental benefits for stakeholders (which could include employees, customers, the community at large, and others). It can entail activities like charitable giving, employee volunteer programs, environmental sustainability efforts, and ethical business practices. Your company may already be doing some or all of these, most likely in response to your employees’ requests, but it might not be terribly impactful or strategic (yet).
Why does it matter?
Research shows that people ranging from millennials to boomer’s care about a company’s CSR practices, both as consumers and employees. You may have earned a customer for life (or the opposite) because of something you might find completely arbitrary, like your charitable support of a cause that is important (or offensive) to them. To a customer, whether an individual consumer like a client or a corporate entity, your business values are sometimes the most important thing separating you from your competition. Engaged employees work harder and stay longer, and a commitment from leadership to reinforce ethical behavior and support the community where employees live, and work goes a long way.
But I’m already making charitable donations.
Supporting nonprofit organizations with charitable contributions or sponsorship dollars is good. But you may have noticed that the same organizations come back looking for support year after year, and you don’t know how they invested what you gave last year. To make more of an impact, some businesses are taking the next step toward forging community partnerships with organizations that align with their values. The first move might be to find out what your employees value and get them involved in making decisions about your company’s community activities. Tap your company’s “rising stars” and challenge them to lead this new initiative. Define what your corporate values are and find out what causes mean a lot to them and the rest of your team. Maybe marketing is part of it, or it could be all about employee engagement. The next step might be to encourage those employees to have a meeting with the leadership of an organization that aligns with your organization’s values and goals. They should learn more about the organization and find out what opportunities there might be to support the mission; it could mean event sponsorship, volunteer projects or strategic planning.
That sounds like it would take a lot of time away from my employees doing work.
Depending on the nature of your business, your employees could work on community activities during their lunch hour or before or after work. If you aren’t coordinating any activities yet, there are numerous activities that won’t cost money or take much time. Host a “jeans day” to raise money from employees who choose to dress casually and empower them to select an organization to receive funds. Encourage employees to volunteer during the annual United Way Day of Caring. Tap into community resources including Lehigh Valley Community Foundation and Volunteer Center to find out how other local businesses engage in philanthropy and volunteerism.
How much is this going to cost me?
I advise clients to start small and manageable. You can set a budget to give away grants, sponsor events or donate services and/or product in-kind, and your employees can raise funds, too. You can repurpose the items that still have a useful life but are no longer needed, like office furniture and supplies. If your current charitable giving is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” consider getting more regularly involved with one or just a few organizations. Developing a community partnership allows your employees to get to know the organization and its programs and mission well. Maybe a few of your employees will volunteer on committees of the board of directors and eventually one of them could serve as a volunteer board member. It could provide meaningful leadership development opportunities as well as a deeper relationship with the organization.
If your business is already supporting the community in many or all of these ways, give yourself a pat on the back. There is a lot of need in our community, and you’re already working toward making our community a better place. Don’t be shy about sharing that important work with your customers, your employees and the community at large. Your work could inspire other businesses to make an impact, too.
Megan Beste of Taggart Associates works with clients that want to make an impact in the Lehigh Valley by serving as a community relations liaison and corporate philanthropy consultant. For more information, contact her at email@example.com or 610-882-1571.