cause marketing

By Ian Lifshitz

Does your business have a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program in place? Small businesses and startups may not consider themselves in need of a CSR program, once thought to be the domain of large corporations.  However, the number of companies with CSR programs – no matter the size – has grown in recent years. A recent study by the Reputation Institute found 73% of consumers in the world’s 15 largest markets are willing to recommend companies they perceive are delivering on their CSR programs.

In addition to being a good corporate citizen, having a well-thought-out and executed CSR program can help in your business development process.  As large brands increasingly aim to do business with companies whose policies mirror their own CSR commitment, gaining these clients could hinge on whether your company has a CSR policy that aligns with theirs.

Here are 10 considerations for small business leaders to keep in mind when forging a successful CSR policy:

1. Determine what makes your company unique. Evaluate your company’s culture and skills as a baseline to integrate into your CSR program. Identify what makes your company unique and how its aptitudes can be leveraged to support sustainable communities, locally or globally.

2. Look at the gold standards for guidelines. Adopt a standard that’s well-known within your industry, with approved criteria and metrics, along with independent, third-party verification thereof. Select a standard that’s relevant to your business to help benchmark its performance and goals. Also, look into areas that may be impacted by your business, to engage with stakeholders that affect your bottom line.

3. Engage employees. Employees are the backbone of a small business.  Involve your employees when creating, executing and managing your company’s CSR program. Employees know your business from the inside out and can provide input to further ensure your CSR program succeeds.  In addition, engaging them will foster a sense of pride of ownership.

4. Consider health and safety. Healthy employees who feel safe are happy employees; and happy employees are productive employees. Your company policies should go beyond the letter of the law and should permeate all aspects of your day-to-day business.

5. Draft it. When developing your CSR program, make sure it includes principles that inspire every member of your business. If you’re asking one of your employees or business partners to do something you yourself wouldn’t do, then assume you’re probably not alone and re-evaluate.

6. Brand it. Your CSR program can be a key differentiator between you and your competition—and it could mean the difference between landing a business lead or not. Your CSR program should not only be a puzzle piece to your overall brand strategy, but a strong, recognizable brand that can stand on its own.

7. Establish metrics. Metrics communicate your CSR program’s progress to your customers and peers, so work to identify the benchmarks that reinforce successful practices.  Reporting outcomes in a transparent and regular way will demonstrate how you are moving the needle over time.

8. Treat your program like a course of study and create a curriculum. Creating a curriculum with which to train current and future employees ensures your CSR program is ingrained within your business culture. Employees will embody your CSR policy within their job functions.

9. Continually improve. CSR programs transform and evolve over time. Evaluate how to improve your CSR program on a quarterly or annual basis. Revising your CSR programs to adapt to the changing times is an indicator of your company’s authenticity.

10. Leverage your CSR program to align with like-minded companies and build trust. Above all, use your CSR policy to engage with other small businesses that share your values. Use conferences, formal networks, panel discussions and trade shows to showcase your company’s CSR commitment and connect with like-minded companies. This will enable you to learn things to share with your team for future strategic business planning, growth and collaboration.

Ian Lifshitz is sustainability director for the Americas for Asia Pulp & Paper Group (APP; @APP_NA). He is responsible for leading the company’s sustainability and related stakeholder engagement programs across Canada, the United States, and South America. Ian is also charged with leading the company’s North American CSR activities, translating and communicating many of APP’s successful conservation, biodiversity and social community programs to North American audiences.