While the term “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) may seem far afield for local businesses or nonprofits who don’t see much resemblance between themselves and the towering entities of the Fortune 500, smaller businesses can also gain from the tenets of CSR.
So, What is CSR?
Corporate social responsibility is a movement where businesses actively include ethical accountability into their work practices. This can take many forms. Sometimes it’s a purely voluntary initiative, but laws in some countries push it. Sometimes it means greater public transparency into the processes and inner workings of a company, and sometimes it is an increased emphasis on donations and volunteerism by the organization. For example, the eyeglasses company Warby Parker is known for giving away one pair of glasses to a person in need for every pair that is purchased. Not only is this action altruistic and socially responsible, but it also becomes a part of the company’s reputation and gives consumers a good, moral reason to choose their product over others (so maybe it’s not entirely altruistic).
How Can CSR Help a Small Business?
CSR could benefit an organization of any size, even a small one, if it:
- endears you to the community (especially valuable for a local business!);
- forges more contacts with other individuals and businesses, who may then recommend you;
- gives your employees a morale boost and more meaning in their work;
- if you practice volunteerism; promotes a healthy team spirit among employees; and
- makes your employees more loyal to your company by being the kind of socially-responsible company they want to work for.
Are There Potential Liabilities?
If you are giving cash, the main parameters are set by your business sense. You will want to vet any recipient organizations to make sure they are a valid 501(c)(3) with an appropriate ratio of dollars given to dollars provided in services. Work with your accountant or CPA on properly categorizing your donations.
If you host events at your workplace, be sure your insurance adequately covers any injuries on the premises. Also, check the premises for safety, perhaps by inviting the local fire department to do an inspection.
Likewise, if you encourage your employees to volunteer by providing paid hours or otherwise having them volunteer on behalf of the business, be aware that this activity would likely fall under worker’s compensation. Make sure your volunteers are trained as needed and carefully screened for their activities. If needed, you can use a background check service like Verified Volunteers. If you are involved in more adventurous activities, make sure appropriate waivers and releases are in place. Also, make sure that your employees understand appropriate standards of conduct and professionalism for volunteer activities as well as regular company activities.
What Can I Do?
Not all businesses can create an after-school program for an entire district, or distribute 50,000 pairs of shoes in a year. Budgets and time are limited when your company is small. Ways you can introduce CSR into a small organization need to be adjusted to match your resources. If done well, they can be just as beneficial to your company as 50,000 pairs of shoes. Below are some starter suggestions (to be tailored to your company’s identity and mission).
1. Narrow it down to one or two causes, and focus on them.
2. Consider causes near and dear to either the hearts of your employees, or whatever services/products your organization already provides.
3. Organize opportunities for motivated employees to volunteer as teams outside of work hours…or, if you are able, provide staff with a few paid hours each month/year which they can put towards volunteerism.
4. Donate to local causes to bolster your home community (yields the dual benefit of letting your employees see first-hand results, as well as promoting local economic growth!)
5. Allow fundraisers by charities to take place in your business, either on-site or online, or give a portion of proceeds for special items to a charity.
6. Get involved: listen to local news to see what needs your community has that you may be ideally positioned to meet.
7. Are any of your current clients involved with a charitable organization? Reach out to them and see if they have any opportunities available…it’ll also be great for reinforcing your relationship with that client!
At the end of the day, it’s up to you and your business to decide on what impact you can make on the social, environmental, and financial landscape of your surroundings with the resources you have available. It is always a reward unto itself to “give back.” We hope that you are able to find a giving opportunity which is fun, fruitful, and fulfilling!