Basic business principles apply across all parts of your business, including launching a small business charitable program. This week, we are sharing some pointers on how a small business can start thinking about beginning a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program.
- Identify something that is germane to your product, service, or founding/founders. For example, if you have a café or restaurant, focusing your charitable commitments on food deserts, food insecurity, malnutrition, or obesity, all make sense and will naturally make the commitment easier to design and implement.
- Identify what resources you have to bear beyond financial. Do you have a space you can offer to host meetings or events? Do you have product that can be donated to nonprofits to use, or even sell? Do your team members have unique expertise in a field that could benefit nonprofit organizations, like marketing, budgeting, or even inventory management?
- Start small. Just as with your marketing efforts, you’re not going to be able to emulate what a large corporation does. Contextualize your expectations relative to your peers, as you would any other area of your business.
- Set goals and think big. Just because you aren’t able to donate large sums of money to the issue that moves you, doesn’t mean you can’t think beyond your current level of giving. Perhaps you are going to be in a position to grow over time, or perhaps your consistent year over year support can provide stability and add up over time. Just as with other business goals, think about what you want to achieve, and then work backwards, setting small achievable goals to meet over time.
- Partner! This is an area of business where working with your competition actually makes a lot of sense. Or think about complimentary companies to engage. You can share resources, split costs, and reap the rewards together. And by pooling your giving, you can make a greater impact through a giving circle model. You can also partner up the food chain, so to speak, and identify ways to involve both vendors and consumers.
- Tell the story to your customers. One small business keeps a small bulletin board with clippings and photos from their charitable involvement by the restrooms. Another places a small, tactful sign at the register alerting customers of their efforts. While others provide a printed sheet with the check/invoice describing their community efforts. The options are endless but they’re entirely in your hands to help your customers (and employees) see your commitment to our communities. Bear in mind, don’t oversell what you’re doing, regardless of how small it might seem, and your customers will appreciate your authenticity.
- Involve your employees. Even if this is your spouse or other family member as unofficial employee number one. Start by simply explaining to them what you want to do and why you want to do this. If this is to attract customers, say that. If it’s to move the needle on an issue, share that. There’s no right or wrong reason to get involved and the more others understand your positioning, they easier it is for them to contribute. CSR tends to have benefits across many areas of business including marketing, business development, employee retention, and client acquisition – none of which dilute or minimize your efforts.
Lastly, have fun! Some of our favorite CSR efforts are whacky but meaningful – think how quickly people gravitated to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, or Take a Bite Out of Lyme. They were memorable because they made sense, but also were a bit silly and helped people laugh and open a discussion about a serious issue.
Share with us on social media what your small business is doing to give back – we’d love to hear your programs, ideas, and even the wildest ideas that got tossed out (but you might refine and circle back to or want to partner on).
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