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A Beginner’s Guide to CSR for Small Businesses

Implementing a CSR scheme is a great way to give back, but it can be intimidating to set up and implement. Let’s look at how you can get started.If you’re reading up on corporate social responsibility, chances are you want to use your business to help make the world a better place. It’s a noble goal and we’re rooting for you!

But the actual practicalities of setting up a CSR policy yourself can be quite a daunting experience. A multitude of questions come to mind – “can we afford it?”, “how can our small team make a big difference?”, “which cause should we pick – there are so many?!” and “how on earth are we going to implement something like this?”.

And unfortunately, as with a lot of things in business, these concerns often result in the conclusion “why bother?”. Which is a real shame, because corporate ethics policies are a valuable part of the business landscape, and even the smallest companies can make a real difference.

But let’s start from the top…

What is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)?

Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR for short, refers to the efforts of companies of all sizes to operate in an ethical way; considering social, economic, environmental, or human rights concerns.

The causes that a company decides to back can be related to the company’s actions, such as offsetting their environmental impact by adopting a recycling policy or moving towards a carbon neutral fleet; or can be totally unrelated to the business’s functions, such as a marketing agency regularly running fundraising initiatives for a local homeless charity.

Corporate Social Responsibility policies are completely self-regulating, so companies can give as much time, money, or support as they can spare. Sometimes businesses pair with a charity, sometimes they merely perform actions for the common good (such as putting eco-friendly measures in place).

Why do Companies Start CSR Policies?

Most people’s hearts are in the right place. They want to make a positive impact on the world and those around them. In fact, over half of millennials say they’d take a pay-cut to find work that matches their ethical values.

This suggests that employees who agree strongly with their employer’s given ethical course of action will feel a stronger bond to the business.

But it’s not just employees that feel the difference – it’s your customers too. SMEWeb’s research found that nearly a fifth of customers would be more likely to recommend a business to friends and family if they knew it donated just 5% of its annual profits to charity.

Adopting strong CSR values is great from a PR and marketing standpoint. When you clearly communicate your company’s more altruistic properties through your marketing materials and the press, it paints a positive picture of your company to potential customers. Not only do you become known for what your business provides in its day to day operations, but a successfully communicated CSR campaign proves that you care about more than simply making money – you want to make a positive difference for years to come.

Some CSR programmes – especially those with an environmental focus – can even save you money. Consciously going to the trouble of cutting down on reusable items and using less energy can feel show positively in the company’s bank balance at the end of the month!

Brainstorming Your Corporate Social Responsibility Policy

All good CSR initiatives start with the best of intentions, but be realistic about what you want to achieve, especially when it’s your first time – no single company is going to save the world overnight!

When you’re choosing what cause to back, remember that you need emotional buy-in from your team; support for the cause at hand needs to be felt across the board. Hopefully this goes without saying, but don’t choose a cause that’s too divisive or controversial.

Consider your team’s feelings when you’re deciding what issue to back and involve them in the decision-making process. For example, you may want to back Charity A for strong personal reasons, but three people on your team want to support Charity B for equally personal reasons. In this case it’s probably best to go with the majority vote.

Always set goals for what you want to achieve. If you leave your Corporate Responsibility policy too open-ended then there’s no finish line to cross – and little incentive to get involved. Monitoring and reporting on your CSR progress is essential, so think – what metrics are you going to measure? How are you going to keep tabs on your achievements? Are you going to have a fundraising goal for each year? A target number of hours spent on charitable works? Money saved from eco-friendly policies? How are you going to keep staff incentivised and aware of progress? Choosing an activity on its merits alone is nice, but you need to be able to quantify and measure it to keep everyone accountable and on-track.

Whether your policy involves external charity work or focuses on in-house initiatives, you need to communicate with your staff fully about what’s involved and how close you are to reaching your goals. For example, if you’re bringing in a recycling policy, everyone needs to know why you’re doing it and the practicalities of carrying it out day to day.

What Next?

It’s likely that you have a certain cause already in mind, but if you’re spoilt for choice or you simply haven’t operated your own Corporate Social Responsibility policy before, you might want to watch this space for my next article. In it, we’ll discuss a few ideas for both fundraising opportunities and for in-house policies to get you dipping your toes into meaningful CSR waters.

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Have you ever got involved with CSR initiatives? What causes mean the most to you? Let’s chat down in the comments!