Corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a hot topic in the business world. Companies of all sizes are being encouraged (and sometimes forced) to become more responsible in their communities. Being a responsible “corporate citizen” includes two important components: 1) things an organization does to society and 2) things an organization does for society.
The first component of CSR requires companies to do no harm to the communities in which they operate. It’s not acceptable to pollute the environment, sell unsafe products, promote unhealthy practices, or mistreat employees. In our new world of social transparency, organizations that do harm in any way won’t survive.
While this first component of CSR is a responsibility of all organizations, the second component is an opportunity. In other words, organizations have the basic responsibility to do no harm, but they also have the opportunity to make a difference in their communities. There are huge advantages to building an organization that does much more than just make money. The entrepreneurs I’ve met across America are passionate about serving their communities and feel the benefits of doing so far outweigh the effort, time, and cost.
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Having worked with hundreds of entrepreneurs who are making significant contributions to their communities, I’ve observed a simple process they follow for getting involved.
1. Clarify your values.
Your “why” or purpose for being in business is the foundation for everything you do. Having a clear purpose naturally leads to a set of related values. For example, Richard Chaves’s driving purpose is to create jobs in a city he loves. Consequently, he values projects for his company, Chaves Consulting, that lead to more jobs. He also values excellent training, ongoing education, and community building.
Based on your purpose, what are the things you and your teammates value most? Do you value education, continuous learning, innovation, exceptional service, technology development, health and wellness, teamwork, or ethics and integrity? Clarifying your values is an important first step in linking your business with your community. You want to support initiatives that are consistent with your purpose and values, while avoiding things that aren’t consistent with your purpose and values. Your community involvement should always enhance your overall company brand and reputation.
2. Assess your skills.
After clarifying your company values, the next step is to reflect on the key skills and core competencies of your organization. What are you really good at? What do you do better than other companies? What things can you contribute that other people cannot? Then, looking at this list, which ones are you the most passionate about? For example, you may be great at calculating your taxes but not very excited about this skill. On the other hand, you may be very good at and very enthusiastic about solving technical problems. The key is to list your core competencies that you’re most passionate about sharing. What are you most interested in? What kinds of activities bring you the most joy? What contributions do you want to make? After answering these questions, you’ll be ready to identify potential community projects or organizations you want to support.
3. Find potential projects.
As your business grows, many people will approach you about supporting their initiatives. It’s great if you can help them, but it’s better to select potential projects in advance based on your purpose, values, skills, and passion. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a hodgepodge of projects that aren’t directly related to your brand or community of customers. Creating a list of potential projects is easy: Do a Google search on nonprofits, charities, and social organizations in your area. Many cities also have a nonprofit association that can help identify community needs, or you can call various government agencies and ask which organizations are working on certain problems that interest you: education, human services, workforce services, or rehabilitation. To find the best matches, start with a broad list of projects before narrowing down your options.
4. Select the best matches.
Now you need to select one or more projects to support that are great matches with your overall company brand, including purpose, values, skills, and passion. I recommend you work with organizations that serve the same community you do. For example, our customers in the food business were interested in health, nutrition, and fitness. Consequently, we supported running events, fitness fairs, and athletic teams. If you’re in the food industry, you might support various hunger organizations. If you’re in construction, you might get involved in housing projects. If you’re in computer services, you might support a school computer literacy program. While serving constituencies outside your community is admirable, it doesn’t help you build a consistent brand and reputation.
In addition, you should get involved with local projects and organizations whenever possible. The more interaction you have with people in your own area, the more rewarding the service will be for you and your team. This is easy if you’re building a geographical community but harder if you’re building a niche community. However, you might support national organizations that have a main office or regional presence in your area. While it’s great to send money to causes elsewhere in the world, that doesn’t always bring you and your team together in a community effort.
Creating your community strategy
The organizations we build can play a huge role in addressing the challenges we face in our communities. While we have a responsibility to do no harm, we also have a tremendous opportunity to make a real difference. I encourage all the aspiring entrepreneurs I work with to build a social component into their business plan from day one. At first, the contribution may be time, skills, and expertise. Later on, it may include financial resources as well. Using business models to address community concerns provides great solutions to our challenges as well as tremendous benefits to our businesses. The questions below will help you create a sound and well-planned strategy for making a difference in your community:
1. What is your purpose and the brand you’re trying to build in your community?
2. Based on your purpose, what values are most important to you, your team members, and your organization?
3. What are five to 10 key skills and core competencies that you, your team, and your organization have to offer?
4. From the list of skills above, which ones are you and your team most passionate about sharing with your community?
5. What are some potential nonprofits, charities, social organizations, or government organizations in your community that may benefit from your company’s involvement?
6. Select several organizations from your list that you’re most interested in supporting. Why is each a great match with your overall company brand?