The precedent-setting commitment of Bill Gates, Target, Starbucks and other socially conscious corporations has brought responsible business to the forefront. In a down economy where profits are low and the need for charity is high, philanthropy can lead the way to not only support those most in need, but also create a trusted company reputation and a long-term increase in sales.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) refers to operating business in a manner that is actively aware of the social and environmental impact created by the business. Where CSR may have originally focused on charity as a vehicle to improve company image, now it reflects a broader commitment to improve the lives of all from employees to global communities through ethical day-to-day business practices and social responsibility in all areas of operation.
Other major companies like General Electric and Hewlett Packard have sought to integrate CSR in their day-to-day business over the past five years. And they’re not just doing it to protect our world or ease their conscience. Deborah Dunn, HP Senior Vice President for Global Citizenship explained in a 2006 report, “Some see this work as charity, philanthropy, or an allocation of resources…but to us, it is a vital investment in our future, essential to our top-line and bottom-line success.”
Due to rising concerns about the quality of living worldwide, consumers and clients are looking more and more to do business with socially-sound companies. A bad CSR image has led Wal-Mart to re-brand and re-haul their company. A good CSR image has enabled Ben & Jerry’s to sell relatively high-priced ice cream to more consumers. Those same advantages that big businesses receive from CSR efforts apply to small business owners and solo-entrepreneurs.
A good reputation makes it easier to engage partners, affiliates and other members of your community who will increase visibility and further marketing efforts. The most relevant and talented individuals want to work with great companies that are moral and ethical. The large pay-off here is that happy, engaged partners and employees contribute more to your business efforts and work harder. Shared passion for a cause unites you and your team and allows you to attract and retain the best clients and colleagues for your business.
Some clients don’t just prefer to do business with socially responsible companies; they insist on it. By not engaging in or promoting philanthropic efforts, you are losing that audience immediately. The benefits of corporate social responsibility are significant: from the direct effect on the environment and the community to the less tangible benefits to the business itself. A company that effectively practices social responsibility may achieve lower operating costs, increased customer loyalty, an improved brand image and ultimately more sales.
Here are some tips to implement an effective CSR plan:
Address all aspects of CSR: Businesses that donate funds or time to local charities but pollute the environment on a daily basis are not socially responsible. While they should be applauded for their contributions, it is important to be consistent and recognize every facet of ethical business. Remember: People, planet, then profits.
Have a CSR Marketing Plan: In order to capitalize on your philanthropic efforts, you need to perfect branding, messaging and marketing strategies and coordinate your partners and affiliates. Be sure to publish information on your efforts as much as possible. Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter can create a following for your cause and drive traffic to your Web site.
Do the research: Many companies are finding that the upfront costs of implementing systems or practices that are good for the environment or their community creates long-term savings. The ethical choice can also be a cost-saving choice.
Take advantage of team/colleague volunteerism: Collaborative volunteer work not only supports a cause; it also promotes team-building and solidarity between you and other members of your team.
Align the cause with the business: This is not to say that if you sell food you have to stop world hunger. It is more important that the cause align with your client’s lifestyles and beliefs. By leveraging the emotional investment they have in certain causes, you will attract more ideal clients and demonstrate that you share their values.
By Shea Bergesen for 10PercentSolution