Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Don't Let the C Word Stop You From Doing Good

David Coethica, has written an article "Top ten CSR Tips for small businesses and medium sized businesses, http://davidcoethica.wordpress.com/. As his first tip, he recommends taking the "C" out of Social Responsibility, so that the idea of being socially responsible, in whatever way one takes it to mean, is more accessible to small and mid-sized businesses.

I wonder whether small and mid-sized businesses think that philanthropy, social responsibility community relations, giving programs, and citizenship are not for them because those terms often begin with the word “corporate”. Does that mean that only a corporation can act in ways that really make a difference? If one considers the fact that small businesses account for 70% of the work force, it is easy to see that small businesses do have great potential for impact on social responsibility and philanthropy. Just consider the magnitude of the environmental impact of 70% of the people in the workplace.

One of his tips also includes volunteering for local community causes as a marketing tool and for building community relations. Here again, small businesses may think they cannot match the employee volunteer pools of big business. But small businesses have stronger connections with their employees and are likely to engage a greater percentage of them in volunteering. Small businesses are also closer to their local community needs and are better able to match volunteers to the right causes.

Although small businesses account for the majority of the workforce, they cannot match big companies in revenues. Large companies are able to endow foundations that can make huge donations to support nonprofits or social enterprises. Small businesses may not have the kind of funding that large businesses have, but they can generate funding by directly involving their customers and their clients in supporting a cause. Small businesses can more easily find inventive ways of collaborating with other small businesses, either through their Chamber of Commerce, local branches of associations, networking groups, or just in their local business community.

If global causes are more interesting to small business owners, small businesses can invest modestly in mini micro lending enterprises such as http://www.kiva.org/. Some small businesses have started their own social enterprise, directly supporting local or global causes, with part or all of their profits, (see postings about In Her Shoes and Mission Street Food). Another avenue of philanthropy that is suitable for small businesses is to donate their extra inventory to charities, that can be used for auctions or for resale. ( see Pearl Paradise )

Consumers are expecting more and more of big businesses to be philanthropic and socially responsible. That level expectation has not trickled down towards the small businesses, yet. With the current economic conditions and the need to increase non-profit support, customers of small business may be expecting the same. Maybe it’s time for small businesses to realize that collectively their impact can be as important as that of big business and their responsibility may be even greater.

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