As companies look for ways to build trust with employees and customers, corporate social responsibility programs are on the rise. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a broad term that generally describes business practices that don’t necessarily boost the bottom line directly but help others in some way, such as charity work or green initiatives.
Over the past decade, society’s standards for business operations have grown, says Wayne Dunn, president of the CSR Training Institute. “There’s an expectation that a business should contribute to the social good and social value while they’re doing whatever business they do,” he says.
Here’s how to set up a CSR program at your small business.
A good CSR program targets an issue, often one that’s a good fit with the business’ core work. “There’s an alignment between the impact on society and the impact on the business,” and the work benefits both, Dunn says. He gave an example of a Google program in Egypt that trained people to make apps; the result was experience for budding programmers, a couple hundred new apps in the marketplace and an enhanced reputation in the region for Google.
Your company’s niche and values can help you decide your best fit for a CSR program. For example, a construction firm may work with organizations in affordable housing, while a marketing company could provide services for a charity employees believe in. Look for ongoing efforts, not just a one-off project.
As a small business, you may have already been approached for donations or sponsorships in your community. Dunn says that’s always a good start for CSR programs, especially for startups. As you grow, consider partnering with an organization to sustain your efforts and give them a broader impact.
Nonprofit organizations in the field you’d like to support already have a jump on getting the right tools and resources to the right places for the best results. Reach out to established charities or volunteer organizations, and be specific about the kind of resources your company is able to offer, whether it’s a recurring donation, volunteer labor or another form of support.
CSR programs often play a role in employee satisfaction; millennials in particular are interested in working for companies that have strong values and live up to them. A 2015 survey by Nielsen found that two-thirds of respondents said the existence of a CSR program was essential or strongly preferred when they were choosing an employer.
That expectation means employees want to get involved, Dunn says. Support their efforts by giving them time to volunteer each month, or build company events around your CSR efforts. Include information about your CSR program, including the results it generates, in internal communications.
There’s no doubt that having a strong CSR program can help with recruiting and even sales; consumers tend to like companies they see as ethical, Dunn says. But it’s important to give clear credit to the partners your company works with and about any other help you get; trying to take too much credit can backfire.
“I see businesses of all sorts communicating as if they’re just these wonderful people doing it just because they want to do good,” he says. “You want to communicate the impact you’re having on the community, but it’s a mistake to make it sound like you’ve done it all yourself.” Give credit when it’s due and highlight the ongoing work of community partners.
Getting certification as a B corporation for your business puts an official stamp on your CSR program. There are different processes depending on how your company is incorporated, but even startups less than a year old can earn a temporary certification. The certification can let people and business partners know of your dedication to corporate social responsibility and that you’ve achieved industry standards for accountability.
Louisiana Business Connection is the state’s first comprehensive database to connect small businesses and prime contractors statewide. Simply create a free account for your company then publish your small business profile or find qualified local business partners based on your needs.