Is social responsibility just another challenge for small and medium businesses?

social responsibility and small business

By Benojo Founder, Martyn Ryan

It is 10.45am on a Tuesday and my phone is making its regular ping-ping sound. I pick up my mobile and read another article on the importance of creating shared value and yet another on the benefits and outcomes of effective employee engagement. It seems that socially responsibility is quite the buzzword, of late.

And for this I couldn’t be happier – I am the biggest exponent of creating a future focused on giving.

But the one area I find these articles commonly don’t include or address are small and medium-sized businesses. And, more specifically, how they can effectively bridge the gap between what they should be doing, and what they actually have the time, skill and motivation to accomplish when it comes to giving.

What are the challenges?

The truth is that while the small and medium size business community may have a genuine interest in being socially responsible, many have a  primary focus on staying alive and competitive most of the time.

Taking the time out to develop an effective giving strategy is challenging and time consuming. Let alone all that comes with it – for example, sourcing support for the process, engaging staff, implementing it and measuring the outcomes.

The benefits of structured giving programs for smaller businesses, particularly those looking for an edge, are all well known and valid. But in reality it’s often seen as ‘what the big end of town do’.  Why? Because they have the money and resources to invest in it.

This is a constant source of frustration for business leaders I speak with on a daily basis. Especially the new generation of socially conscious go-getters who recognise that corporate citizenship is no longer ‘a-nice-to-have’ but rather a key conversation to have around the boardroom table.

How do SMBs combat this?

If the new social business contract defines the importance of giving programs, no matter the size of the business, then what does the blueprint for success look like? And how can it be made easy and cost effective to adopt?

1. Businesses and those that lead them must be able to make an honest assessment of whether or not they and their people are ready for a structured program.

2. The next step is through effective knowledge and insight. Essentially, to have a clear vision of the opportunity and the end goal and to have everyone in the business support it. The way to do this is through involving them, and giving them voice and choice, in order to collectively achieve success.

Collaborative strategy building has proven time after time to be a success factor in structured giving programs.

3. Have a transparent and clear plan of attack that includes the roles of the causes being supported. A planned approach means both giver and receiver are working towards shared value and sustainable relationships.

4. Have everything in one place, once activity starts.

Two reasons; the first is for the effective management of administration and the other for generating inspiration. The management of spreadsheets and emails in giving programs is commonly the biggest burden.  Furthermore, never underestimate the power of peers. Tell everybody what everyone else is doing and provide all with the opportunity to participate.

5. Measure what you do and communicate it well. After administration, measuring and sharing the outcomes of giving efforts is the second biggest burden. People want recognition and inspiration. Make the effort to tell the right people, the right stories, and the opportunities are endless.

For smaller businesses to do this alone is often an insurmountable challenge, as it requires a combination of knowledge, process and technology that generally goes beyond their business capabilities. This often means engaging multiple vendors and suppliers and potentially making things even more complicated.

What’s the solution?

It is up to business leaders to recognise the skills and expertise they may have in each of these areas and to create a plan that utilises what is available most effectively.

It is also about being honest about where gaps may lay and being confident in filling these with the appropriate external resources, where beneficial.

Yes, this may force a more considered approach. However, by benchmarking against best practice and recognising where internal talent can contribute to success, the result will not only be cost effective, but rewarding and engaging for those involved.

I do believe the days of ‘only the top end of town’ doing CSR are coming to an abrupt end, with decision makers in small and medium businesses now having an opportunity to play on a level field.

It’s just a case of doing a few things well and – where appropriate – being confident enough to invest in services you require to create an effective giving program for your business, regardless of size.

If you're an SMB and need help - contact us to see how Benojo can assist.