How Even Small Businesses Can Embrace CSR
Remember the story of David and Goliath, or Nestor and Ereuthalion?
The moral of these tales, if you ignore the violent battle bit, is that even small entities can be powerful.
This applies to the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as much as it does to any other aspect of life.
Small business leaders tend to be concerned about their company’s ability to make a meaningful contribution to society, given the issues of limited resources and a restricted headcount. But the truth is, even the tiniest of enterprises can have a big impact on their communities and reap all the CSR benefits enjoyed by larger corporations: enhanced employee morale, collaboration, productivity and retention; a better public image; brand differentiation; and improved sales and financial performance.
Engaging in CSR successfully as a small business just requires some careful strategising and creative thinking. Here’s some advice on how to run a socially conscious company, no matter your size or revenue.
1. Collaborate and Leverage Existing Opportunities
The good news is, you don’t have to develop an independent CSR scheme from scratch, nor do you need to attempt driving change alone.
Why not join forces with other local businesses – even large international firms – to make a lasting impact by pooling your resources and efforts? You could even consider partnering with clients on projects, which could serve to strengthen relationships, too.
Your staff members are always a good starting point when looking for charitable opportunities that don’t necessarily require a huge financial commitment. Speak to your employees and you’ll most likely find that many already have connections with charities and NPOs that you can assist in manageable ways. That’s one of the benefits of a small business: you can easily involve all of your staff members in a brainstorming process that should hopefully yield great insight into how you can give back in a way that makes sense, given your constraints. Getting buy-in from the bottom up is, after all, an important step towards creating a successful CSR programme.
Remember, there are already a host of initiatives and organisations out there that rely on assistance from others – options like Habitat for Humanity and the Santa Shoebox Project, for example. Reach out to them and chat about how you can slot into and support the activities they already have on the go.
2. Build Sustainability into Your Business Practices
When we think of CSR, we tend to envision complex, large-scale social programmes and generous donations to charities.
But really, social responsibility for business entails any effort that helps to improve society or safeguard the environment in some way.
It doesn’t have to be something a company does separate from its everyday operations; it can be embedded in the way you do what you do. It’s about where you source your raw materials from, how you treat your staff members and what practices you’ve put in place to reduce your carbon footprint.
As a small business leader or employee, sit down and think about changes you can make to your business model to add value to your community and to the planet. You could, for example, initiate a recycling programme at work, adopt a no-paper policy, switch over to energy-efficient equipment, install solar power, do away with plastic packaging or adjust your procurement principles so you only buy products from sustainable businesses, for instance. While some of these changes might involve an initial monetary output, many will actually save your enterprise in the long run.
3. Work with What You Already Have
If you don’t have a lot, then it makes sense to make the most of what you do have. It doesn’t matter how small you are, as a business, you have skills, products and services, so link these to pressing needs in your area. Is there a community, charity or organisation that could benefit from your expertise or the goods you produce? As a small advertising agency, for instance, could you run the odd pro bono campaign for NPOs? Or as a homeware brand, would you be willing to part with a few blankets for the homeless?
Your business, no doubt, also has knowledge – plenty of it. Why not build a CSR scheme around information and skill sharing?
You could connect with community centres and universities to set up workshops and training sessions for underprivileged individuals and staff from other small enterprises. Upskilling others is an especially meaningful way to give back, and while it might require a time investment, it doesn’t demand a large budget.
You almost certainly also have waste – by-products of the manufacturing process, machinery you no longer need, food scraps that aren’t being consumed. Remember the old cliché, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure”? Instead of letting your waste go to…well…waste, look at it from a new perspective and donate it to a cause that could benefit from it.
4. Start Small
If you hold tight to an overly grand image of CSR, you’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and find yourself paralysed into inaction.
You don’t have to save the world. Just do what you can do.
Start with your immediate community, or even your employees by investing in their well-being and happiness. Even small campaigns that see staff members collect items for donation to a cause can have a big impact. If you can’t invest cash or too much time in CSR, consider developing a simple employee volunteer programme that encourages staff to donate hours to NPOs in the latter part of a Friday afternoon, for example (they’re probably not highly productive during this time anyway). If it works for you, you could also consider donating one product to individuals in need for every 10 sold.
Sometimes, what’s required is a mindset change. Don’t think of CSR as an obligation; remind yourself that it can actually help to grow your company, attract new customers and enhance productivity. By just starting somewhere, you could turn your small business into a large one that’s better positioned to contribute in bigger ways.
Is your small business looking to improve its CSR efforts? Talk to us at Brownie Points! We can link you up with a network of NPOs and help you create, manage and track a successful CSR campaign.
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