CSR is an acronym that has entrenched itself into modern business lexicon. Many large corporations now have impressive, well-structured CSR policies from planting trees in endangered woodlands or building schools in underdeveloped nations. But how should smaller businesses contribute? Is effective CSR merely the preserve of large, multi-national corporations or can SME make a real difference in this sphere too?
WHY IT’S GOOD TO GIVE BACK – THE COMMERCIAL BENEFIT
There are many obvious advantages to a business having a well-executed CSR policy. From a purely commercial perspective, it can raise profile and brand awareness. There are also tax benefits associated with CSR, which should not be overlooked. In some cases, it can also lead to new business. Law firms and accountancy practices, for instance, may give free advice to new business start-ups, which could result in new instructions further down the line.
Moreover, it is not uncommon for companies to scrutinise the CSR policies of other corporates before going into business together. Organisations, wishing to procure goods or services from new suppliers, sometimes request that those companies demonstrate their commitment to CSR as part of the tendering process.
THE ‘Z’ FACTOR
However, there are other reasons, aside from the immediate commercial benefit as to why the importance of CSR is becoming more apparent. Recently, BNY Mellon, through its partnership with the Salford Foundation, surveyed 300 people between the ages of 16 and 25. The results were revealing. Eighty seven per cent of those who took part, believed it important that a company creates a positive impact on surrounding society.
Clearly CSR now plays a crucial role in engaging with young professionals and though salary will almost always be the overriding factor, the importance of CSR should not be ignored in the fight to attract talent. The growth in social conscience coupled with an increasing awareness of how business impacts on the environment means the Z generation is far more tuned into CSR than in previous years.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE
When ‘BYDAND’ was incorporates, I wanted to put CSR at its heart. Paying lip service to the idea was not enough. But how? When a business is in its infancy, it’s easy to forget about everything else except growing the company, servicing clients and, of course, making profit. Teething problems, coping with the challenge of a relentless administrative burden, not to mention managing social media and writing blogs (!) means a well thought out CSR policy is quickly found languishing at the bottom of a very long ‘to do’ list. With so many plates spinning at once just to get the business off the ground, how could my company make a positive impact right from the word go?
Arguably, larger companies have the time, infrastructure and resources to invest in impressive CSR campaigns. Not so long ago, I remember chatting to a senior executive of a global oil company. Contrary to what the media might have us believe, such businesses are regularly engaged in massive CSR projects that play a pivotal part in obtaining their commercial goals. When an oil company drills a new well, for example, they do not simply barge in to ruthlessly exploit the area’s natural resources. On the contrary, they often commit to vast investment programmes to improve and assist the local community. This may take the form of ameliorating poor services, building roads, schools and hospitals and so on. Impressive though all this was, it seemed a little ambitious as far as my fledgling business was concerned.
Closer to home, there are numerous equally worthwhile CSR initiatives, though on a slightly smaller scale. The South Manchester Enterprise Network, founded in 2012 by social housing organisation, City South, (now One Manchester) involves a number of large players in the Manchester market including the likes of Laing O’Rourke, Beever and Struthers and Heineken Brewery. The members often network together whilst also delivering large community-based projects focused on job creation, mentoring and training.
This seemed more realistic, though I was still looking for a CSR project where BYDAND could make a more immediate impact. In the end, the choice turned out to be staring me in the face. Legacy Rainbow House is a national charity based in Ormskirk. The staff work with children with acquired brain injury such as cerebral palsy, multiple disabilities and complex health needs, from their 12 acre site.
I had actually visited the organisation, a number of years ago and was quite taken with the work they did. It seemed the perfect choice and once I had visited and spoken to some of the staff, my mind was made up.
ESTABLISHING A WORKABLE CSR POLICY
When it came down to it, working out a sensible CSR plan was actually quite simple. As far as I was concerned, there were three main points to have in mind:
- Pick something close to your heart – it’s vital for anyone looking to drive a CSR programme among his or her staff, to choose something with which they have some sort of connection. I have mild cerebral palsy so the thought of helping children with similar conditions struck a particular chord with me.
- Choose a CSR project close to home – once you start looking into it, you’ll find that there’s a multitude of avenues available to businesses large and small, looking to build a CSR policy. This may not be working with disabled children. It could be mentoring young business people at the local college or university or giving free advice to a community project. Either way, it should, in my opinion, be a local project. There are many projects that perhaps your company is unaware of, that are right on your doorstep.
- Don’t bite off more than you can chew – Whether yours is a large corporation or an SME, then the demands on your time will be great. Don’t take on more than you can handle. Plan your CSR policy in the same way as you approach your own business. Set yourself a time frame, establish obtainable goals and review the policy at regular intervals.
To any small business, developing a workable CSR initiative can be daunting. However, approach it properly and it can be of tangible benefit to all parties involved .