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CSR – Why and what's in it for me?

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CSR for Smaller Businesses – Community Engagement

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Here is Part 5 of the CSR for Small Business series and this post is looking at the benefits of engaging with the wider community outside the workplacepartnership.

But what has community go to do with business? The answer is your communities are your business.

Before we get into the practical advice for making more money we need to clarify what we mean by ‘community’. A dictionary will tell you that a community is a social group with a joint cause, in this context we will briefly look at a few different groups sometimes also called stakeholders (or to coin a phrase “anybody that can bugger up your business”) by corporates or consultants wanting to sound expensive.

In particular we’re going to concentrate on those groups outside of current customers, suppliers and employees. These groups are usually primary considerations and therefore usually well managed. It’s the secondary groups we encounter and only react to where we can improve our effectiveness.

 

Ok, now for some quick wins:

 

 1. Whose time and money?

I’ve not come across many businesses that don’t support a charity or good cause, especially at smaller organisations as they tend to be more accessible to local communities.

If you own or manage a small business and already help out good causes, do you know why? Are you doing it for the company’s benefit or because it’s important to you? Understanding the difference between an owner/manager’s personal values and those of the business (if recognised what they are) often get confused. It’s important to clarify what you support because you want to and what you support that can help your business. If anything is done on business time or with the company’s resources it should directly benefit the business. I’ve worked with organisations where the directors were clocking up impressive hours supporting good causes and calling it networking with very little benefit actually being delivered as a result. It’s easy to get sucked into the incredibly morally rewarding world of charities but your business can suffer. If your business is successful you’ll be able to give more but the business has to come first.

 

2. Formal charitable policydonation

By taking a little time to step back and think logically you should be able to increase the value of your offer to good causes whilst also improving your business. If you see tangible business benefits coming from working with good causes you are more likely to get more involved with them again in the future. The not-so-secret is to look at these types of relationships as longer term win-win scenarios and understand what the partner cause really needs and build a mutually beneficial partnership.

Many businesses react to charitable requests for time, cash or products as they come in and without proper management. Which causes are supported? Who chooses them? How much is spent?  Ad hoc management of any of resource inevitably leads to inefficiencies. Emotive issues usually generate emotive responses which can easily distract people especially with no organisational policy guidance.

By creating a clear set of principles for your company’s relationships with external charitable and community organisations you make it easier for everybody to maximise the use of their time.

Here are a few considerations when creating a formal charitable policy:

  • Define a budget (time, product amounts and /or financial) and evaluate performance annually.
  • Shop around. Like any supplier relationship try a few different potential partners. Select a cause that has energy and professionalism. Don’t just pick a partner because they are big or well known. The better causes understand that it is about giving as well as receiving and should be able to offer benefits such as access to their media resources, contact lists / referrals, volunteering opportunities or training for your employees.
  • Aim to build lasting relationships and don’t expect fantastic returns overnight. Put the effort in to understand your partner’s needs and offer your own suggestions. Sometimes people are afraid to ask or don’t know what they need. It should be a two-way relationship.
  • Select a cause that you can exploit your own strengths for, i.e. by offering your particular expertise, product, employees during quiet periods or access to extended networks.
  • Do you want to work with just one partner and focus or would you benefit more from a combination of local, regional, national, international and different topics (environmental, human rights, sport, children, disability, medical research etc)?
  • If your business aspires to grow geographically, regionally, nationally or internationally, can you find a partner that reflects your target boundaries. Barcelona Football Club has UNICEF across their shirts because the charity is a global brand!
  • Can you commit to an extended time period with your policy, say 1, 2 or 3 years? Oppositely, sometimes a change of partner can energise both sides of the relationship.
  • Could you encourage employees to engage in local charities or schools in their own time to help further their local understanding issues and enhance complimentary skills?
  • Be innovative. Get away from boring cheque handover photos, please! How about writing a cheque on the side of a cow, finding a new way to use Facebook or Twitter, turn your car park into a beach for a day, anything, but be creative?!
  • Aim for excellence. Treat your charitable relationships in the same way you would with a supplier or customer.

 

3. Payroll Giving

Providing a facility for employees to automatically make a donation to charities of their choice is a great quick win for all employers. You can be seen to be encouraging charitable support at very low cost and with minimal effort. There are specific payroll giving organisations that can manage this process in combination with your normal payroll process at extremely affordable rates. Not every employee will take you up on this offer but they will appreciate your consideration. There may be also financial incentives for both employee and employer dependent on your location.

 

4. Volunteering

I would advise serious consideration of encouraging all employees to participate in volunteering events for both their own favourite charity and also a more formal session with colleagues as part of the company. Just half a day for their own charity and half a day for a team event will create fantastic opportunities for morale building, group skills, gaining perspective and lead to improved personal performances. Volunteering can improve productivity, recruitment and retention by stimulating passions and providing a platform to learn and interact in a fresh environment away from the routine of work, in addition to supporting a needy project.

 

5. Schools and Higher Education

Youth is the future of tomorrow and also a great audience to get your business in front of, as long as it can be done sensitively. You should be aware of all the local educational establishments in your area. Consider ‘adopting’ a local school and look for partnership initiatives such as providing work based learning, encouraging employees to become governors, offering practical workshops about your industry. Giving a talk at an assembly at a local school is promoting your business to not only the children and teachers present but also the families back home. Don’t just think about promoting your products, think also about schools as pools of talent and creating your own educational programmes to tap into potential talent early.

 

6. Out of sight, out of mind – into work, into saleshomeless

There are many within all of our communities that are forgotten, hidden or ignored. Homeless people, ex-offenders, ethnic minority groups, disabled people, are just a few of those that society has marginalised for one reason or another. Stereotyping has further excluded many from our thoughts and to everybody’s detriment. These groups contain millions of people all with skills and disposable income that you can access with the right approach.

Not every homeless person sells the Big Issue, is an alcoholic or drug user, it can be just be somebody without what we would call a home or address. UK retailer Marks & Spencer has a great track record of taking homeless people on board with many offered full-time employment. Disabled people make up approximately 10% of the population of the UK; they all have money to spend and skills to offer. Is your product or site accessible to all? Don’t make it hard for people to spend money! Ex-offenders or ex-services are often stereotyped and can also provide a great source of employees.

Yes there are barriers to overcome such as perception, awareness and prejudice but for balance there are always rewards available for those with the vision to venture into less chartered waters. For each of these social groups there are numerous agencies desperate for private sector support that are able to help you with any.

I can speak with personal experience of working with all of the above social groups with only positive, and many inspirational stories after overcoming the popular misconceptions and ignorance that we all have. Be brave, take one step and explore all the opportunities for new recruits, new sales and fantastic reputation.

 

7. Buy from us and be a good person

Why not encourage customers to buy our product by offering a donation to a partner cause? Cause Related Marketing is a great way to improve sales by tapping into new customers because of an association with an appropriate good cause. Plant a tree, buy a water well in a developing country, vaccines for children in poverty, books / sport equipment / computers for schools, you’ve probably heard of at least one of those, why not try it for your business? The cost of the additional promise should be more than covered by the increased sales, not to mention the reputational benefit.

 

Have you got any examples of successful community engagement initiatives?

CSR for Smaller Businesses – Employees and Workplace

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Welcome to Part Four of the series on CSR for smaller businesses. Today’s post is going to look at every company’s most valuable resource, employees.

 

 Happy Employees

As in previous posts, the idea is to provide jargon free advice for activities that are simple and inexpensive to implement. At this point in the series it’s still about looking for shorter term benefits to justify a deeper and more strategic look at CSR a few posts down the line.

 

Before we head into the suggestions and examples I’d like to point out what this post isn’t. I’m assuming that your organisation is complying with the appropriate employee related legislation. If it isn’t or you’re not sure, go and check first. We can’t build on unsound foundations! This is about looking at the business opportunities for going beyond compliance using available time and financial resources.

 

Areas covered will include looking at how we can improve recruitment, increase productivity and increase retention.

 

Let’s get straight into how you can benefit:

 

 

1.    Its good to talk

How well do you know your staff? I’ve seen countless times where employees have unveiled hidden talents not listed on any CV, application form or job description that can benefit your organisation. To get the best out of your employees you need to know each of them as individuals. If your recruitment, appraisal and management processes are from a template and managed like a conveyor belt you’ll get products not employees. Right now amongst your staff you may have an eco-warrior, a Twitter or blogging expert, a charity fundraiser extraordinaire or a fitness guru, who could all potentially add further value to your organisation at little additional expense. If you can tap into people’s true passions and exploit complimentary skills you’re onto a winner. We’ll look at how to utilise skills such as these throughout the post.

 

 

2.    Recruitment

In an increasing number of recruitment situations, especially for higher skilled positions, potential employees are grilling businesses on topics such as work-life balance, values, environmental position and volunteering opportunities. For higher skilled jobs those seeking employment can be confident of a decent salary and being able to demonstrate a commitment to CSR can add real value. This is even more prevalent with graduates and Generation Y’ers as CSR, sustainability, ethics and climate change are further integrated into the academic curriculum and are saturating the internet and other media. Can you exploit your ethical credentials to these types of job seeker’s questions to attract better employees?

 

 

3.    Get the staff out of the officevolunteering

Getting your staff out of the office and supporting a good cause works well for many reasons. No matter how small your business you can spare at least a couple of employee hours (especially at low periods) to paint a fence, read to a child, clean a river bank etc. Any time spent away from work will be more than made up for by an energised workforce, not to mention the new skills, change of scenery and feeling of satisfaction. The business will benefit from improved reputation, stimulated workforce, and who knows maybe even a little networking or new client or supplier from the relationship.

 

I would suggest at least having a company volunteering event as a group to build team spirit and for more formal appropriate PR opportunities. It’s also worth offering your employees the chance to take some time volunteering for a charity they feel personally close to. Offering volunteering as a contractual benefit is an inexpensive, yet effective way of adding value to employee packages.

 

 

4.    Charity begins at work

We’ll brace the subject of the business supporting good causes and charities in later post. This post is about employees supporting appropriate causes at work, i.e. allowing themed fundraising days and also making individual donations through their pay slips. By allowing managed use of company time or resources to support a particular cause you can break up routine and engage with appropriate causes. It’s good for morale and can also generate some positive PR.

 

Charitable giving can be painlessly facilitated through payroll at very little cost which effectively reinforces the company’s ethos of being a good citizen. Each employee can select their own charity or you could suggest a good cause that the company supports formally. There are external organisations that specialise in establishing and managing such projects at very reasonable costs. Not all employees will take up this offer to make a small donation each month but at least you will be seen to be facilitating this and play your part, even if nobody takes it up!

 

 

5.    Flexible working

We looked at this from an environmental perspective in last week’s post. This time I’d like to look at it from an employee and productivity position. We’re not just talking about working from home this time. I want to look at all the options and why they can work in the right situation. There are numerous options to manipulate working hours or responsibilities including staggered hours, compressed hours, shift swapping, job sharing, flexi time and home working. In the UK there is now legislation requiring employers to consider flexible working requests but these options should be looked at as business opportunities rather that yet another burden. Larger companies such as BT report productivity improvements of 20 – 30% using these techniques. Home working in particular can offer interesting headaches such as employees working too much, not a problem many managers face in an office setting!

 

 

6.    Health

Your employees tend to be more productive when they’re not in bed sick. How much does it cost you if somebody takes time off? Here are a few suggestions to help your employees perform to their best of their ability:

 stairs

·   Set up a company running / walking / sports team or club.

·  Promote cycling to or at work. There are tax incentives to purchase bikes in UK.

·  Encourage, pay for or subsidise yoga, Pilates or aerobics sessions at workplace or local venue.

·  Make the stairs a more attractive place than the lift! Pictures and paint make a world of difference.

·  Provide fresh fruit and drinking water, or a fridge for employees own food.

·    Have regular health topic awareness days to highlight issues like cancer, back pain, asthma ordiabetes.

·    Promote Fairtrade or organic products.

·     Have a quite room for reading and relaxing, away from any food & drink space.

 

 

Don’t forget emotional health. People tend not to talk about their own problems but 1 in 6 people are experiencing mental health issues at any one time. If your employees are having problems away from work these will almost always effect their performance in work. I’m not suggesting that every business should provide a counsellor but it costs nothing to provide contact details or website address for agencies and services to support just about every mental or emotional problem you may encounter. How about asking a masseur or beautician to spend a day giving neck rubs or facials at a discounted price for offering access to your workforce?

 

There will be local agencies that will be keen to help you with most of these types of initiatives at little or no expense, just make a call or search the internet.

 

 

7.    Physical environment

If you’re asking somebody to spend a third of their waking life in your business you need to make it as energising and pleasant as possible. Corporate grey, filing cabinets, no windows, poor lighting and poor ventilation doesn’t really inspire anybody to do they’re best.

 

One small business client we worked with the employees just wanted to put the radio on. Management did know they wanted this and the employees thought that management wouldn’t allow it! Just by allocating a short amount of time to talk about work space conditions with employees will unearth hidden gems of ideas that make a difference.

 

·   Do you provide showers or somewhere to change if people want to cycle to work?

·  Are employees allowed to decorate their own work space?

·  Do you consult employees about general work space decoration and colour schemes?

·  Is there adequate ventilation into the work space?

·  Could you have plants / greenery tended by green fingered employees?

·  How about an office pet?

 

 

8.    Being sociable

By this I do not mean early finishes on a Friday and an afternoon in the bar. Keep events formal but fun! Most businesses have a Christmas event (which should be properly managed) but what about an end of financial year or seasonal event? It could even by tied into supporting a charity. How about a ‘bring your child (or pet!) to work day’ may need some management but great fun and fantastic change to the daily grind. Be creative.

 Times Best 100 SME

 

9.    Get recognition

If you’ve got a great workforce tell people! Apart from the obvious aura given off by your business and its employees, the next best step is to gain accreditation such as Investors in People or look to enter a ‘Best Company to Work For’ type award. Don’t forget to put any of these onto your website (not hidden away) and recruitment literature.

 

 

10. Twittering, Blogging and Facebooking

If you’re a small business and you’re not using these tools you are missing out. Social media for smaller businesses should be better described as free PR, free advertising, enhanced internal communication and improved customer relationship management. Not one of them alone is a miracle answer to make millions but they can individually, or better still integrated together in to an online marketing strategy, really deliver impressive results. Who is the secret Twitterer / Blogger / Facebooker in your business? Twitter is a great way to gather information, make contacts or conduct research. I now have over 2000 people I can connect directly with on Twitter. Not a bad start when looking to promote, research or network, and all free. Come and say hello @davidcoethica.

 

Social media is also great for improving communications internally if managed properly. Yes, there is always room for abuse with social media but none more than photocopiers, stationary cupboards, employee room fridges, telephones and fuel cards, and we’ve learned how to manage these to our advantage efficiently. Don’t be afraid of new technology – use your internal champions. A company Facebook group could provide great free branding, lead generation and compliment (or stand alone as) your employee newsletter. As long as you have a clear policy on how all employees can use these tools during business hours you should see the benefits quite quickly.

 

 

 

All of these suggestions need managing and I understand that we’re all busy keeping heads above water especially at the moment, but think of these as investments to improve productivity and research potential initiatives with a return on investment approach. You will be surprised at the returns you can deliver quickly and with little financial input.

 

There are many agencies and incentives for businesses to engage in initiatives such as these, you just need to make a little time to discuss and find a champion to coordinate.

 

For inspiration take a look here at what benefits Google offer to their employees.

 

By taking extra time with employees you can easily reduce turnover, improve productivity and enhance recruitment. If you consider the cost of having to advertise, recruit, interview, train and allowing somebody to get to full speed in new position, then a short amount of time and maybe a small budget is worth investing in.

 

Please add a comment or example you’re aware of about great employee management for others to share.

 

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