Monday, March 28, 2011

“Corporate” Social Responsibility: Small (to Medium) Business, Big Impact

by Laprisha Berry Vaughn
Contributor, Gulf Coast Philanthropy

What drives businesses to commit to corporate social responsibility? Well it depends on who you ask. The C in CSR is for corporate. However, small and medium businesses engage in CSR activities and are committed to its principles in a big way. But, there are marked differences in how corporations engage in CSR and how smaller businesses make decisions about donating their resources – both human and financial.

More times than not the owners/managers of small and medium businesses use personal values rather than expected business benefits as the motivating factor for engaging in activities that contribute to the social good. In other words, their decisions to give can be guided by the heart (doing good for goodness sake) and not the head (doing good for business sake). Because small and medium size businesses often engage in CSR without a related business strategy, they demonstrate a true commitment to the community and to the charities and organizations to which they contribute.

What does this mean to the nonprofit organizations? Nonprofit organizations that are looking to diversify their funding and increase sustainability should consider approaching small to medium size businesses for their time and talent. Local businesses that are familiar with the local nonprofit organization are likely to give money or manpower/womanpower to events and programs. This can be as substantial as a yearlong effort to raise money for a charity, cause, nonprofit organization, or as simple as providing complimentary meeting space or hosting a canned food drive in the business’ lobby. Whether the plan for contributing to the nonprofit organization is simple or substantial, the organization should keep in mind sustainability while creating and cultivating a relationship with the business owner/manager. The relationship with the business should be long-term and mutually beneficial.

On the other hand, what does this mean for small to medium size businesses? These types of businesses can - and should - continue to be guided by their passion when making decisions about giving. However, they may also want to borrow some lessons from the big boys and communicate their giving in a formal way to their employees, local market and the community. Evidence shows that businesses that are perceived as socially responsible attract and retain more customers and vendors. Thus, effectively reporting community investment can affect a business’ bottom line.

Reports of community investment need not be complex and overly formal. They can be presented on company websites, through press releases or published brochures. Moreover, reports can be low cost and high yield. If expertise or cost is an issue, business owners may want to consider contracting with a community involvement advisor with writing expertise to assist with integrating a CSR report into their marketing plan.

Employing and communicating use of CSR initiatives can ensure a big impact for a business’ bottom line by increasing its customer base and fostering employee leadership development. Garnering support from local business owners who share the vision of the nonprofit organization can have a substantial impact on the organization’s capacity to serve the local community. In other words, through use of effective community engagement initiatives, small (to medium) businesses can make a big impact.

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