No business is too small to do good.
In 2016, the 90 employees at California-based Antis Roofing donated 693 labor hours to install roofs on eight new Habitat for Humanity homes. They also performed more than 100 leak repairs and provided 10 large-scale roof projects.
The company’s mighty effort led to a “Best Corporate Steward” award from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation in 2017 and helped establish the business as a community player. Their initiatives have included partnerships with Ronald McDonald House Charities, American Red Cross, Alzheimer’s Orange County and more.
Corporate social responsibility programs are increasingly crucial for businesses of all sizes. According to a study from Score, consumers want to spend money with socially conscious businesses—and millennials want to work for companies that do more than just make a profit.
“In the past, it used to be charitable contributions,” said Marc DeCourcey, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. “That’s great, but companies can actually do so much more than just cut checks. They can not only leverage their treasure, but also their time and talent to help address societal challenges.”
While small and medium-sized businesses rarely have the kind of resources large corporations can pour into corporate social responsibility programs, size is not a deal-breaker for making a positive impact. Here are a variety of ways smaller businesses can contribute to their communities at scale.
Build a program around your superpower:
When developing a corporate social responsibility program, DeCourcey recommends looking inward and ask: What’s your company’s superpower?
“Banks are able to help people with financial education and invest in communities to help with affordable housing,” said DeCourcey. “Banks can do that because that’s what banks do. A roofing company can’t do that—but a roofing company can help fix someone’s roof.”
The best use of a smaller business’ resources is utilizing what it already has. A doctor’s office might provide medical care to underserved communities or a pet supplies shop might donate pet food to a local animal shelter, for instance.
Consider community needs:
Of course, who should receive those resources is an important decision as well. To decide, Reba Dominski, chief social responsibility officer and president of U.S. Bank, suggests starting with research.
“Some of the data and insights I would encourage small businesses to think about is, what are your competitors doing and what are the most pressing needs in your community? You can look through media, or you can use the Chamber as a resource to understand what the community’s most pressing needs are.”
Get employee buy-in:
Since employees are often deeply involved with corporate social responsibility programs through paid volunteer time or program coordination, they should have a say in what projects they’ll be participating in.
“It works best when you’ve got everyone at the company plugged in and ready to go,” said DeCourcey. “You’ve got to have the internal conversation first before you start jumping outside your four walls to try to do something good.”
Ask employees what they’re passionate about and what they’d like to spend their time doing.
“If you can put together a program that engages your employees and serves a real need in your community, it’s probably going to be a successful program,” said Dominski.
Start with a narrow scope:
Large enterprises with corporate social responsibility programs often target multiple causes. They may address sustainability through their supply chain, homelessness with the donation of volunteer time and community education by leveraging internal expertise.
Smaller businesses, however, are often better off with a more specific focus.
“You might need to find just one cause,” said Dominski. “That focus doesn’t have to be lifelong. You can start with a focus on one thing, and then as your business grows, you can then build up that focus and expand.”
Pair the extent of your business’ investment with your size, too. If sending your entire staff to volunteer for a whole day will break your budget, consider other options.
“Board service is an incredibly important way for a business to show up in a community and for a business leader to contribute their expertise,” Dominski said. “You’re going to have to be scrappy in the resources that you use.”
Consider a partnership:
One way to amplify your community investment is to partner with another business or local nonprofit. “Partnerships are really critical,” said DeCourcey. “You only have so many resources, but if you’re able to aggregate them, all of a sudden, you become a much larger force for good.”
Evaluate your impact:
Corporate social responsibility programs can be tough to evaluate. On one hand, you can count the number of hours volunteered, events hosted or products donated, but that data doesn’t necessarily offer insight into the impact you’ve made on your community.
Dominski recommends a little of both—capturing the data that’s trackable, and looking at the big picture, too: Are those you’re attempting to serve better off? Is your business making the world a better place?
Evaluate business outcomes as well. “Does this help employee morale? Does this lift your brand in the community?” said DeCourcey. “Does this help your relations with government? Does this sell another widget? That’s not why you do all these things, but all those things help—and they help you do more of it.”
Service with a smile is important when contributing to your community. Even just one unenthusiastic participant risks diminishing the impact of your initiatives.
“Running a small business is hard, hard work,” said Dominski. “Launching a corporate social responsibility program—engaging your consumers, engaging your employees, having a positive impact on your community and in the world—I hope that that brings you joy. It can be incredibly rewarding.”
And if you approach it with intention, strategy and heart, a corporate social responsibility program is rewarding for staff members, your business and the entire community.