New Guide to CSR for Small & Medium Businesses

Twitter yet again demonstrates its power to unearth a nugget of information.

I found a link to a launch of a new CSR guide for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Anybody or anything that grasps the Corporate Social Responsibility for smaller businesses nettle gets kudos from me.

I’ve got to say overall it is not bad at all. The information is accessible to the audience it’s trying to reach, i.e. owner / managers and employees, and it’s presented in a style that is easy on the eye.

The information contained is deep enough for a complete novice and also those who have done some homework on Google. Each individual thematic area takes a very  similar approach to ours at Coethica by offering a 3 stage roadmap of initial quick wins, medium term opportunities and longer term challenges to get businesses on board whilst encouraging them to delve deeper and invest further time and resource.

The communications section is naive but adequate. It doesn’t mention social media at all which amazes me. The opportunities for spreading CSR messages mostly for free to an increasingly receptive audience is a no-brainer quick win when I’m talking to SMEs.

It is good but it feels too academic, too wordy, for obvious reasons, but it will definitely help raise awareness of the benefits of CSR for small businesses.

It’s also an improvement on another guide out there called the Small Business Journey, which I’ve never liked. The SBJ website appears too complex and isn’t user-friendly at all, which is even more frustrating considering the tough audience it needs to convince and win over. As for the hard copy brochure of that site, forget it. One irritation has always been that they change the name to Better Business Journey for the paper based version for no apparent reason? I began to use it early on as a reference document for owner / managers to read and learn from, but gave up as most entrepreneurs never got past page 2 because it was uninspiring, too wordy, draped in statistics and typically preachy in its content.

If I can be so bold as to offer advice for anybody attempting to reach the millions and millions of SMEs out there with a CSR message, please remember this if nothing else; SELL CSR, don’t preach. You are talking to entrepreneurs, a unique species indeed. Preaching or expecting them to just get it DOESN’T work. Sell the sizzle! What’s in it for them? Most don’t care what it is called just what benefits it can bring. Education is not the first task, building trust in your authority is!

To check out the guide for yourself click here. Is it any good? What could be better?

Now I need to go and finally finish my version of an SME guide. ¬†Watch this space…

5 thoughts on “New Guide to CSR for Small & Medium Businesses

  1. Tim Kovach

    Great post, David. You make a lot of important insights into how one should approach CSR and sustainability for SMEs. I work on energy and sustainability issues at the Council of Smaller Enterprises, a small business support organization in Northeast Ohio with over 16,000 members.

    Through my experience working on these issues with our members, your points in the last paragraph ring true – they want to know that you are a real expert who can tell them everything they need to know. They need to trust that you aren’t selling them something that you don’t believe in and that you aren’t sure will be of value to them. They need to know the value that it will provide, not just to Generic Business A, but to a business like them in the same industry with a similar number of employees. Having good, concrete reasons to support the business case for sustainability is not just beneficial, it is essential.

    I appreciate you working on putting together a resource for this purpose. Too much of sustainability is focused primarily on picking off the larger targets, but the small businesses are truly where the greatest opportunities to reap the benefits lie. They can truly succeed from investing in sustainability, and they are also the largest sector of the economy. There are more than 29 million small businesses in America; they are the job creators, they are the primary drivers of this economy. We need to engage them actively so we can help them reach that sustainability tipping point.

    – Tim Kovach,
    Product Coordinator, Energy Programs at COSE
    http://www.cose.org/blog
    http://www.twitter.com/COSEenergy

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    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Tim

      Thanks for such a lengthy comment!

      For me SMEs are the forgotten masses of the CSR audience. It was my personal eureka moment when I was first told of the ‘approx 99% of business in all developed countries are SMEs’ quote. I was speechless (quite an achievement I can tell you) as I was sat amongst the top CSR elite of the FTSE after being presented by a tree by Prince Charles. To be surrounded by such corporate giants and then realise there we almost no small businesses in the room at first frustrated me, which almost became anger when enquiring to those who allegedly drove the CSR agenda in the UK.

      I can totally understand the focus on corporates (it is ‘C’ SR after all) and top down strategies, hoping to filter through supply chains into smaller businesses, but I vehemently disagree with an only top down approach. Grassroots upwards HAS to be a component of any successful sustainable strategy, especially to mass audiences. As you so rightly point out, small businesses are the lifeblood of economies and for me CSR is merely a business improvement tool, so why are are the two disconnected. The answer is probably a whole series of blog posts, but suffice to say all attempts so far to engage have been mediocre and that’s being generous.

      The biggest missing piece on just about every support resource I’ve seen has been the language and presentation. What is needed is a peer to peer style approach – grassroots up. Let’s make CSR viral. Not from government dept, or academia, but from within their own networks, decent case studies presented in a tone that appeals and sells the benefits to owner / managers.

      Time to pull my finger out and release this piece of work I think. The best way to get a job done is to do it yourself! If anybody fancies partnering in this shout out quick!

      David

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  2. Joe Thornton

    I am actually in the process of doing research on how and why SMEs understand and implement CSR. So far in my research I have found very few companies that have formal programs, but almost all of the companies perform CSR on an informal basis. I know that in looking at existing literature, most of which is from Europe, it was noted that SMEs are put off by the term corporate. Here in the US that does not seem to be an issue.
    Many of the companies have pointed out that while they are interested in and participating in socially responsible activities, they are also a business and must make a profit. Even in the companies that are not significantly involved, they are still helping to provide jobs and contributing to the economic condition of the local economy.

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