Sometimes it seems like Corporate Social Responsibility is only for the “big guys,” those companies that have whole departments dedicated to reputation management. When you’re a smaller company it’s easy to think CSR is not for you. After all, you have bigger concerns, like where the next customer is coming from or how to hang onto your best employees.
But this is exactly why smaller companies should be thinking about CSR. It can be an effective tool to generate business and engage your employees. Even Harvard Business School says every company needs a CSR strategy because of the “enormous tug towards CSR” in the marketplace (quite simply, your customers are demanding it).
HBS identifies three areas of CSR for companies:
- Philanthropic initiatives – making coordinated efforts to invest in good causes.
- Supply chain and cause marketing initiatives – aligning “good causes” with business outcomes like efficiency gains or marketing.
- Transformative ecosystem changes – developing long-term strategies or products that solve an environmental or social issue.
The team at Starfish Impact suggests the following tips for smaller companies contemplating a CSR strategy:
- Start with clear goals. The benefits of CSR are well-documented, from retaining employees, improving culture, increasing employee skills, impressing your customers, or building awareness of your company. The best CSR initiatives start with a clear goal in mind.
- Leverage your actions. Smaller companies will have smaller staffs and budgets than an international corporation, so it is important to do more with less. Even if you can only have one volunteer day per year or only give away a small amount of money, think about how you can increase the impact of your actions by asking employees, vendors, and customers to join in. We know one company that highlights the volunteer efforts of staff members in the office lobby and encourages employees and visitors to donate loose change or the price of a cup of coffee to that employee’s cause.
- Involve employees from the start. The best CSR initiatives bubble up from staff and customers. If your entire company can fit in a conference room, you can just start with a conversation. If you’re larger than that, we suggest starting with a survey to find out the issues your staffers care about. In general, the more employees can choose and direct a company’s CSR strategy, the more engaged they will be. There’s a big difference between a company making one charitable gift to a cause versus matching employee gifts to hundreds of causes.
- Make sure you communicate your efforts. Whether you’re highlighting pictures in a company newsletter, dedicating part of your website to your CSR efforts, or issuing a press release about your impact on the community, talking about your good works can excite your employees and customers.
In sum, with a little bit of planning, any size company can make a big impact. It reminds us of that great quote from Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve.”