What is Corporate Social Responsibility? A Guide for Small Businesses

By Rhonda Bradley / 1 April 2019

Learn what corporate social responsibility is, and how small businesses can build a stronger connection with followers by implementing low-risk social campaigns.

Many people may believe that corporate social responsibility is only for big name brands with the money to do good and still turn a profit. Yet, smaller businesses can also get in on the trends and it may even improve their bottom line.

A recent report found that three-quarters of people are likely to start shopping at a company that supports an issue they agree with and 71% think it’s important for businesses to take a position on social movements.

More than half of the people surveyed said they are likely to stop shopping at a company that supports an issue they disagree with, though. This means that small businesses may lose customers if they end up supporting a divisive issue.

So, how can small businesses leverage the rewards of social responsibility without risking the loss of valuable customers? 

In this article, we explain what corporate social responsibility is, and explore ways for smaller businesses to get in on the trend without taking risks they can’t afford to lose.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility? 

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a term that began in the boardroom with the intention to impress shareholders.

As more consumers expect brands to support social issues, though, its meaning is adapting to cater to consumers.

In layman’s terms, corporate social responsibility is action taken on behalf of businesses that contribute to the betterment of society. CSR generally implies that a company takes at least one of the following four actions:

  1. Take a stand on a social cause
  2. Donate to a charity or social cause
  3. Employ sustainable, environmentally-friendly practices
  4. Start a conversation or movement around a social cause

Data shows that consumers care most about a business’s environmentally-friendly business practices (71%), followed by how it gives back to the local community (68%).

Graph - company attributes people find important

Smaller companies can easily integrate the top consumer priorities for social responsibility. Implementing environmentally-friendly practices and giving back to the local community are both tasks that are easy to do and unlikely to cause a controversy that could sink a smaller business.

Corporate Social Responsibility Examples

In this section, we take a look at the types of socially responsible campaigns that avoid controversy, making them good examples of the kinds of social issues that are ideal for smaller businesses.

The Many Different Ways Google Gives Back

Google exercises corporate social responsibility in many ways. For starters, it is the largest corporate renewable energy purchaser in the world.

Google renewable energy

The corporate giant also actively supports International Women's Day by recognizing the impact of women in business. Its Instagram account is packed with introductions of women who have had a positive effect on society.

For example, one post celebrates ice cream company Coolhaus’s CEO Natasha Case and co-founder Freya Estreller for their contributions to society.

Google International Women's Day Post

Google also actively supports Black Girl Magic, a movement that "celebrates the beauty, power, and resilience of black women.”

For example, in one video Google featured inspirational black female role models such as a ballet dancer, congresswoman, gymnast, and judge.

Google Black Girl Magic Post

Google also goes out of its way to show support to pet lovers with dog-friendly office policies and a “Doogle” campaign, that showcases the dogs of Google offices.

Google dog-friendly post

Google’s renewable energy efforts, intersectional support of women, and dog-friendly campaigns are all good examples of the types of campaigns appropriate for small businesses. 

Lego Joins Top 10 Most Reputable Companies Worldwide

The LEGO Group now ranks as the second most reputable company in the world as recognized by Global RepTrak

LEGO’s goal is to create a “safer, more unified society, meet the shifting needs of the world in the 21st century and preserve the long-term health of our planet.” according to its 2018 responsibility report

It meets its high expectations with an environmentally-friendly manufacturing process, including the use of sustainable product materials and wind power.

LEGO sustainability post

LEGO also contributes to organizations around the world that support children affected by conflict and it champions the rights of children’s safety.

LEGO children's safety post

LEGO demonstrates social responsibility by supporting environmentally-friendly practices and advocating for the safety of their main consumer – children.

How Can Smaller Businesses Begin to Think About CSR?

When corporations decide how to structure their corporate responsibility initiatives, one of their primary goals is to match issues and causes with the personalities of their existing customer base.

Small business social involvement may require more sensitivity to lower the risk of controversy, especially for businesses that don’t have prior experience with CSR.

The examples above demonstrate many ways that companies can take a stand on or contribute to a cause without risking losses. Some ways small businesses can begin committing to CSR include:

Contributing To Charities 

In the LEGO examples above, the company aligns its efforts with its buyer persona - children and parents. By supporting children in various situations across the globe, LEGO reinforces its commitment to its customer base.

Look to your products and services to discover ways that support issues and causes that are close to the hearts of your customers. 

Consider profit-based contributions that allocate a percentage of sales toward an organization or charity. This helps draw attention to the cause because you can promote it as part of the sales process, and offers an affordable way to make contributions.

Giving Back to Your Local Community

Fundraising and volunteer events are another way that small businesses can exercise social responsibility. 

Coordinated volunteer days or events that raise money for charities are a good way to harness publicity while making an effort to better your community.

Social responsibility doesn’t have to take a bite out of small business profits. 

Look for Ways to Improve Your Carbon Footprint

It may be impossible for small businesses to switch to 100% renewable energy or manufacture with 100% sustainable profits. 

You can, however, make an effort toward improving your carbon footprint, and put a plan in place to gradually implement more environmentally-friendly practices.

Raising awareness on issues like recycling offers an opportunity to encourage and train employees on a more proactive approach. It’s something that can take place onsite, and companies can even provide incentives to encourage participation in employee recycling programs.

Although reducing your carbon footprint may be a small start on a long journey, it’s also a socially responsible movement in the right direction.

Small Businesses Can Give Back in Many Ways

There are many ways that small businesses can commit to social responsibility. Some offer excellent public relations opportunities, while others lay a foundation of integrity amongst employees and build a path toward future CSR efforts.

Corporate social responsibility isn’t just for corporations anymore. Small businesses must include socially responsible efforts to compete in an economy where social issues are nearly as important as the products and services you sell.

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