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Giving Back Matters Corporate Social Responsibility for Small Businesses

Blog Post Written by Deb Kelly Featuring:

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is often

associated with high-profile large companies with deep pockets that allow them to enhance their reputations with the public and their customers, employees, suppliers and investors. However, according to N. Craig Smith, INSEAD Chaired Professor of Ethics and Social Responsibility, CSR is equally as important for small and medium-sized business. “Size matters, not so much in whether (a small business) should engage in CSR but in relation to why and how,” he says.

While CSR is viewed as philanthropy in the minds of some company leaders, the reality is there is a strong business case for “strategic CSR” that is in the long-term economic interests of the firm, according to Smith, with benefits including strengthened corporate and brand reputations and enhanced trust with key stakeholders and improved risk management.

“For some companies, that’s true,” Newmarket Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Tracy Walter said. “Others just want to be a part of the community.”

Even with less funds to invest and fewer people with time available, many small businesses are making it a priority to be as equally or even more socially responsible than their much larger counterparts.

Small businesses are often deeply involved in their local communities. Rob Clark, owner of RC Design in Newmarket, says he has been driven to give back since first founding his creative marketing agency because of his strong connection to the community in which he was born and grew up. Typically, he gave his time to organizations such as Rose of Sharon — picking up donations — and Neighbourhood Network — sitting on a steering committee— but as his company grew, he saw the value in engaging his employees and becoming more strategic about how and what they support.

Demonstrating socially responsible behaviour is a virtual must for a small business trying to compete against larger chains with greater bargaining power and exposure, according to Smith. “Social responsibility goes beyond meeting basic legal and ethical standards, it includes functioning as a strong community citizen that shows concern for the public. To maintain and emphasize this strength, take part in local events and activities, encourage company leaders to get involved in service organizations and clubs and have your name on community projects,” he says.

Many small businesses understand that to attract and retain younger skilled employees, it’s essential to demonstrate social responsibility, Walter says.

For Clark, building a culture of CSR has helped him build an “awesome team” who share the core values that fuel his own passion to give back.

“They feel good about coming to work,” he adds. “It’s not just about the paycheque.”

Small businesses can give time, and also include funds for non-profits in their annual budgets — you can start small — to have impact in their community, Walter says. The key from a business standpoint is to do your research and identify organizations whose mandates align as much as possible with your values and brand, she adds. “Look at it like any other spend,” she advises, “and measure the results.”

Along with donating money, you can offer paid time off to employees so they can volunteer, or if that’s not possible, build a culture in which employees are willing to volunteer or take part in a charity event after hours, Walter suggests. Participating in charity events often has the added benefit of a team-building exercise.

A great way to begin is to engage your staff in the process: employees at all levels are likely to have ideas that can put you on the pathway to corporate social responsibility. “Shine a light on your employees, as well as your company, to help develop a culture of giving back and leading in the community,” Walter says.

At RC Design, Clark says he formed a giving committee on which several employees sit to help lead the process.

Clark, who is a sponsor of Portraits of Giving and a past Honouree, will readily admit that doing good in the community — inspired as it is by the sincerest of motivations — has undoubtedly enhanced the credibility and “trustworthiness” of his business.

“People appreciate that we contribute to the community. It’s in my nature — and I’m pleased to do it — but it’s definitely had its unintentional benefits from a business standpoint.”


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