Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is now more important than ever. We’re currently living in a low trust world where it seems everyone is just out for themselves and what they can take from life. But times are changing.
Before Covid-19, people were already asking for a different approach, wanting a world where business is more than just about making money. They had also started demanding transparency – just saying ‘we do what we can’ was no longer enough; they wanted specifics about supply chains, fair trade, good working conditions, environmental responsibility and so on.
Of course, it’s true that some customers won’t care. However, a growing majority do care and these people, whether they are buying as a business or as a consumer, want to buy responsibly, and they want details to prove that they are doing so.
What counts as CSR?
CSR can come in many forms such as financial donations, resource donations (e.g. product, time, staff, etc.), offering pro-bono work for charities or the vulnerable in society, co-marketing to promote a charitable cause, and having specific, clear, publicly announced ethics (e.g. LGBTQ-friendly, vegan, no investment in drugs or weapons, carbon zero, etc.)
Here are some examples of the different approaches to CSR. Take a look at see what could be applied to your business:
Give a financial donation for every transaction
A clear and easy way to practise CSR is to donate a percentage or a given sum to a charity or organisation with every transaction. For example, at Bidwedge, we are all mad about cats, so we partnered with Born Free. When changing your unwanted foreign currency back into Sterling, you can opt to donate the full amount to Born Free (via the Bidwedge platform) and we’ll donate 100% of our handling fee, or if you’d prefer to keep the cash yourself, we’ll still donate 50% of our handling fee. All the money donated goes directly to support Born Free’s big cat sanctuaries at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/shamwari-big-cat-rescue-sanctuary.
Another example is UK insurance broker Club Insure, which announced earlier this year that it was aiming to raise £75,000 for Prostate Cancer UK by donating £5 for every new or renewed insurance policy. This followed a long-serving Director’s advanced diagnosis of the disease, which adds a personal touch to the partnership between the two organisations. Potentially this charitable relationship will tip the balance for people looking for insurance cover, who like the idea of their money doing something good while buying a service they need.
Donating in-line with your brand
There are also many organisations which donate something allied to their brand. This can give a fun and / or memorable message for the organisation. For example, Who Gives A Crap’s tagline “toilet paper that builds toilets” tells you what their business is and what their charitable contribution is, while showing itself as a fun brand, with the nudge towards toilet humour. And they do donate a very generous 50% of their profits to help build toilets in developing world countries where access to sanitation is limited.
Green Tomato Cars is another ethical brand, founded to provide an eco-friendly car service in London. They aim to do their bit towards improving air quality in London and were the first operators in London to use the Toyota Prius. Not only that, they offset their unavoidable emissions by supporting The Ugandan Improved Cookstoves project. This project subsidises the sale of fuel-efficient biomass and charcoal cookstoves across Uganda to improve cooking conditions and reduce indoor air pollution.
Donating product like-for-like
Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, the smart money might well be on give-one-away-for-every-one-bought. It certainly worked for Dashel, who gave away one of their stylish recycled cycle helmets to an NHS keyworker for each one bought online during lockdown. Not only did they give a real benefit to NHS workers choosing to cycle to work, rather than risk public transport, they showed themselves to be a truly ethical company and, in turn, found their helmets very much in demand.
If donating money is not right for you and / or you don’t have the margins to give away product, you can give your own time – and that of your team – to help out. Many large companies give employees a number of days paid time off to volunteer. As a small business this may not be so easy but even a couple of half days might make a difference and boost morale.
Alternatively, perhaps you have services that you can offer a smaller charity. Maybe you can offer to set up some social media activity or give an hour each week to advise on financial administration or software. Reach Volunteering is a platform that connects organisations that have skills they want to offer with organisations looking for help: https://reachvolunteering.org.uk/
For smaller businesses, it may seem that the size of donation you can afford is so small, it will just be an insignificant drop in the ocean for a major charity or project. This isn’t true as absolutely every contribution, no matter how small, does make a difference. However, if you want to feel your company is making a significant difference, it may well make sense to keep your efforts local.
James Alexander Estate Agents in Thornton Heath, London, regularly contribute to local events to support community organisations. In fact, their local primary school has received over £15k in the last few years – a huge amount for a local school that will make a very big impact. They also sponsor two local church fetes, plus they have a charity push every year about something the team feels passionate about – this year they did a sleepout with Centrepoint and raised £2,300. This, alongside a lot of other work to support local organisations, means they are having a very real – and noticeable – impact locally.
Whether you are giving to charity or not, CSR requires you to be ethical in your business. This covers everything (and I do mean everything) and should be checked at every level of the business so you can be confident in your transparency. It’s not enough to treat your employees well and ensure their working conditions are spot on, you need to check that ethos across all your suppliers and make sure none of them is exploiting foreign workers further down the supply chain.
These are just a few examples of successful CSR, which I hope will inspire you to take action within your own small business.
How to decide what your business can do
- Choose something that resonates with you and/or your business
- Don’t choose something just because it makes you look good. It won’t work. Customers (and staff) will see through it, and you will find it difficult to sustain if your heart’s not really in it.
- If you have a big team, perhaps allow them to choose what they want to do and how they want to contribute. You’ll get better buy in that way and they are bound to enjoy it even more!
- If necessary, start small. Something is always better than nothing. And once you’ve started you find it easier to expand your contribution.
- And whatever you choose, make it public. Announce it on your social media, on your website, maybe even on your packaging. Just be sure to let people know,
Teaming up with a big name can give the business added kudos; supporting a local charity makes sense if your market is primarily local; getting involved with a smaller charity can work well if you’re looking to make a big difference or would like reciprocal exposure.
Don’t worry if you are starting small, it’s still a contribution. Find an approach to CSR that suits you, put a plan together and be proud of what you can contribute.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shon Alam is founder of Bidwedge. Bidwedge makes it easy to change your left-over cash currency back into Sterling – at great rates for even the smallest amounts. Just enter the amount, see the rate you’ll be paid, post the cash and watch the money appear in your bank account. It’s easy to do.
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