Why Corporate Social Responsibility is More Important Than Ever & How You Can Seize the Opportunity

CSR advice tips small businesses

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for ages, which means it’s a little ‘yesterday’ surely?

Not according to Shon Alam, founder of Bidwedge, who argues that CSR is now more important than ever and outlines how small businesses can capitalise on the opportunities it offers.

Before Covid-19, people were already asking for a different approach, wanting a world where business is more than just about making money. They were asking for people, animals and the planet to be cared for and considered.

They had also started demanding transparency – just saying ‘we do what we can’ was no longer enough; they wanted specifics about supply chains, fair trade, good working conditions, environmental responsibility and so on

So, for startups and small businesses CSR is more important than ever; for the long-term survival of your business and the future of the planet for your children and grandchildren.

Of course, it’s true that some customers won’t care. They will buy on price or because a brand name is more important to them. However, a growing majority do care and these people want to buy responsibly, and they want details to prove that they are doing so.

Let’s look at what this means for your business.

What counts as CSR?

CSR can come in many forms. For example, financial donations, resource donations (e.g. product, time, staff, etc.), offering pro-bono work for charities or the vulnerable in society, co-marketing to promote a charitable cause, and having specific, clear, publicly announced  ethics (e.g. LGBTQ-friendly, vegan, no investment in drugs or weapons, carbon zero, etc.)

All of these approaches are not only good for business, they help build you brand, boost staff morale, make a positive contribution, and, well, they are the right thing to do.

And for those customers that don’t care, having good CSR won’t put them off. So, you have nothing to lose. But many customers do care – so why lose their business? By having good CSR you attract more people, you stand out from your competitors, and you show that you care about the long term future. I believe the expression is ‘win-win’!

Here are some examples of the different approaches to CSR. Take a look at see what could be applied to your business:

Give a financial donation for every transaction

A clear and easy way to practise CSR is to donate a percentage or a given sum to a charity or organisation with every transaction.

For example, at Bidwedge, we are all mad about cats, so we partnered with Born Free. When changing your unwanted foreign currency back into Sterling, you can opt to donate the full amount to Born Free (via the Bidwedge platform) and we’ll donate 100% of our handling fee, or if you’d prefer to keep the cash yourself, we’ll still donate 50% of our handling fee.

All the money donated goes directly to support Born Free’s big cat sanctuaries at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa.

Another example is UK insurance broker Club Insure, which announced earlier this year that it was aiming to raise £75,000 for Prostate Cancer UK by donating £5 for every new or renewed insurance policy. This followed a long-serving Director’s advanced diagnosis of the disease, which adds a personal touch to the partnership between the two organisations.

Potentially this charitable relationship will tip the balance for people looking for insurance cover, who like the idea of their money doing something good while buying a service they need.

Volunteering

If donating money is not right for you and / or you don’t have the margins to give away product, you can give your own time – and that of your team – to help out.

A lot of the big organisations offer what’s known as Corporate Volunteering Days. Experian, for example, offers employees three paid days per year to volunteer for a charity, while Nationwide Building Society gives their employees two days each year.

Of course, this may be harder for small businesses but even a couple of half days might make a difference and boost morale, while you are building your business and your contribution.

If you can’t give your team days off straight, perhaps you have services that you can offer a smaller charity. Maybe you can offer to set up some social media activity or give an hour each week to advise on financial administration or software.

Reach Volunteering is a platform that connects organisations that have skills they want to offer with organisations looking for help: https://reachvolunteering.org.uk/

Donating product like-for-like

Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, the smart money might well be on give-one-away-for-every-one-bought. It certainly worked for Dashel, who gave away one of their stylish recycled cycle helmets to an NHS keyworker for each one bought online during lockdown. Not only did they give a real benefit to NHS workers choosing to cycle to work, rather than risk pubic transport, they showed themselves to be a truly ethical company and, in turn, found their helmets very much in demand.

Stand4socks is another brand that donates one product for each sold. They create socks from sustainably sourced yarns, have ethical working conditions and sustainable packaging.

But arguably, what really sets them apart is that they recognised that the most requested items from homeless shelters are socks. So, they designed what they believe to be the most suitable socks for homeless people and donate a pair with every sale.

Helping locally

For smaller businesses, it may seem that the size of donation you can afford is so small, it will just be an insignificant drop in the ocean for a major charity or project.  This isn’t true as absolutely every contribution, no matter how small, does make a difference. However, if you want to feel your company is making a significant difference, it may well make sense to keep your efforts local.

James Alexander Estate Agents in Thornton Heath, London, regularly contribute to local events to support community organisations. In fact, their local primary school has received over £15k in the last few years – a huge amount for a local school that will make a very big impact.

They also sponsor two local church fetes, plus they have a charity push every year about something the team feels passionate about – this year they did a sleepout with Centrepoint and raised £2,300. This, alongside a lot of other work to support local organisations, means they are having a very real – and noticeable – impact locally.

Being ethical

Whether you are giving to charity or not, CSR requires you to be ethical in your business. This covers everything (and I do mean everything) and should be checked at every level of the business so you can be confident in your transparency.

It’s not enough to treat your employees well and ensure their working conditions are spot on, you need to check that ethos across all your suppliers and make sure none of them is exploiting foreign workers further down the supply chain.

For example. If you promote yourself as a green business, check the green credentials of everything, right down to the packaging in which you send your parcels, the coffee in the kitchen and the soap in the toilets.

No one expects you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be doing your best. So be transparent about what you have done, what you’re still working on, and what you are finding challenging – you never know, a customer may have the solution for the part you are struggling with.

Customers want honesty and they want to know that if you say you’ve checked your suppliers, you really have.

These are just a few examples of successful CSR, which I hope will inspire you to take action within your own business.

Still not sure what to do?

If you’re still undecided on what’s best for your business, here are some hints to guide your CSR journey;

  • Choose something that resonates with you and/or your business
  • Don’t choose something just because it makes you look good. It won’t work. Customers (and staff) will see through it, and you will find it difficult to sustain if your heart’s not really in it.
  • If you have a big team, perhaps allow them to choose what they want to do and how they want to contribute. You’ll get better buy in that way and they are bound to enjoy it even more!
  • If necessary, start small. Something is always better than nothing. And once you’ve started you find it easier to expand your contribution.
  • And whatever you choose, make it public. Announce it on your social media, on your website, maybe even on your packing. Just be sure to let people know,

There are so many good causes and charities needing help, so there will definitely be something to suit you. Teaming up with a big name can give the business added kudos; supporting a local charity makes sense if your market is primarily local; getting involved with a smaller charity can work well if you’re looking to make a big difference or would like reciprocal exposure.

Finally, be clear about what you are doing. Even if you feel it’s not much, it’s still a contribution. CSR is a broad church; there are lots of ways to do ‘it’ – so find what suits you, take action, and – perhaps most importantly – communicate that action.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Shon Alam, founder of Bidwedge. Bidwedge makes it easy to change your left-over cash currency back into Sterling – at great rates for even the smallest amounts. Just enter the amount, see the rate you’ll be paid, post the cash and watch the money appear in your bank account.

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