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What now for Corporate & Social Responsibility?

For 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.

As it’s been around for a long time Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) may feel a little old hat.

However, I don’t believe it is. In fact, I would say the ethos behind it is still as important as ever, if not more so. We’re currently living in a low trust world where it seems everyone is just out for themselves and what they can take from life. But the tide is turning.

Before Covid-19, people were already asking for a different approach, wanting a world where business is more than just about making money. They had 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. The pandemic hasn’t stop ed this, if anything it has crystallised it, with all of us more aware than ever of our impact on the planet and its fragile balance.

For 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.

It’s true that some customers won’t care. They will buy because of a brand name or simply on price. However, a growing majority do care and these people, whether they are buying as a business or as a consumer, they are looking for companies that care and are about more than just the money. They want to buy responsibly, and they want details to prove that they are doing so. They don’t want to be fobbed-off with greenwash; they want to know what you are doing as a business, and what that means. And in many cases, they are willing to pay a bit more for it.

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

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

For customers that don’t care, having good CSR won’t put them off. 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.

Donating in-line with your brand
There are also many organisations which donate something allied to their brand. This can give a fun and / or memorable message for the organisation. For example, Who Gives A Crap’s tagline “toilet paper that builds toilets” tells you what their business is and what their charitable contribution is, while showing itself as a fun brand, with the nudge towards toilet humour. And they do donate a very generous 50% of their profits to help build toilets in developing world countries where access to sanitation is limited.

Green Tomato Cars is another ethical brand, founded to provide an eco-friendly car service in London. They aim to do their bit towards improving air quality were the first operators in London to use Toyota’s Prius. Not only that, they offset their unavoidable emissions by supporting The Ugandan Improved Cookstoves project. This project subsidises the sale of fuel-efficient biomass and charcoal cookstoves across Uganda to improve cooking conditions and reduce indoor air pollution.

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.

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.

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.

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?

  • 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.

CSR has a vital place in today’s world and companies of all sizes can make a valuable contribution.

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