There is a relatively fancy term given to the work that many large organizations do to combat many types of social causes. Corporate Social Responsibility—or CSR—is an umbrella term for everything from water conservation to fighting all kinds of addiction. Increasingly, for many large businesses, it is becoming a critical way that they grow brand reputation as well as give back to the communities and societies that they sell to. But CSR programs are not just for large companies.
Some businesses are famous for how they have built CSR programs into the fabric of their business. Tom’s Shoes calls itself a “socially responsible business” and lives up to it by giving one pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair of shoes you buy. There is growing evidence that it matters more than ever to consumer behavior as well.
People are reading labels more than ever. They are rebelling against overly processed materials and making choices based on cleaner, healthier, more natural ingredients and processes. More importantly, they are looking for companies that have a heart. In a groundbreaking book about consumer behavior called Spend Shift—the authors termed this the age of “mindful consumption” where the way that people are buying and interacting with businesses is based on more than just a product or service.
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Every purchase is a vote, and consumers are taking more ownership over the votes they cast. How can you help your small business to adapt to this trend? Giving back, quite simply, is a smart business strategy. Here are a few steps:
Step 1: Choose a relevant issue.
This will be something that relates to the core nature of your business. Coke uses lots of water, so obviously they should care about it. What’s your similarly relevant issue? They key point here is that you need to focus. Resist the temptation to choose multiple issues—start with one main one, and you can always grow your efforts at a later stage.
Step 2: Find the right partners.
No matter what you choose, chances are there will already be non profit organizations who are working on that issue. Do your research and try to identify the best ones to partner with. They may not necessarily be the largest either. Think regionally and try to find groups who you can establish a personal connection with and therefore inspire more passion from your customers and employees in supporting them.
Step 3: Build your credibility.
Simply announcing an issue to focus on isn’t enough, you need to back it up with actions. What foundation are you joining? Which volunteer community are your employees participating in? How much will you set aside to donate? These are the proof points that make your commitment real, and you need them.
Step 4: Evangelize your efforts.
This stage is the most potentially beneficial from a marketing point of view for your business, but also needs to be handled carefully. You cannot be seen as exploiting your efforts for business gain but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about what you are doing and encourage more of your customers and potential customers to support your efforts either directly, or indirectly by patronizing your business.
Step 5: Maximize your impact.
A great CSR program involves continually reassessing your performance to make sure you are actually impacting the issue that you care about. Are your donations getting to the population that needs them? Are you using all the resources that you could be using? Do you have the right partnerships? These questions will help you to optimize your efforts.