Why businesses of the future will put CSR first

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According to entrepreneur and philanthropist Greg Secker, pictured, Founder of Learn to Trade & The Greg Secker Foundation, businesses in the future will look back on today’s UK PLC model, in much the same way as we do the workhouses of 150 years ago. Having set up and donated 17% of pre-tax profits from his 24 businesses to The Greg Secker Foundation here is his advice to small businesses wanting to put Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) at the centre of their business model.

The rise of social responsibility  

A common misconception among small businesses is that implementing a CSR programme will not benefit them, their business, or their employees, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Employees and end customers are now actively looking to work for and purchase from companies that have a positive impact, and this change is largely being driven by millennials – a generation that will make up 75% of the workforce[1] by 2025. A generation driven not by money, but by the motivation to make a difference, and according to recent research[2] they are willing to take a pay cut to work for an employer that matches these values.

With round the clock news coverage and the world at our fingertips, helping others has become a part of the consumer conscience in a way that has not been previously experienced. The modern consumer wants to know the business they engage with has ethical practices and puts people before profit margins.

Businesses that give back – either in the form of employee hours, business resource, or money – build a more positive reputation with employees, existing prospects and prospective customers. In fact, our research found UK businesses that put giving at the heart of their business culture are perceived more positively by customers (than competitors), while nearly a fifth would be more likely to recommend a business to friends and family, if they knew it donated just 5% of annual profits to charity.

So, what’s new? Haven’t businesses been driving their CSR and philanthropic schemes for decades? Yes, but the perspective has now changed. One-offs, add-ons and a separation of church and state are no longer acceptable. People want to see philanthropy in action and as an integral part of how a business operates. This is more than seeking to appease consumers through symbolic CSR or greenwashing. True CSR must be substantive, demonstrate benefits to a community or cause, and not be a one-off engagement.

If you’re in doubt about how to get started, it’s simpler than you might think. Whether it’s introducing a CSR structure that commits to donate a portion of profits, or giving a fixed annual fee to an organisation of your choice, the steps below are a good starting point to help you lay the foundations of an effective CSR strategy:

  1. Engage your employees in your CSR programmes from the offset: Whether it’s a need in the local community, training youths in your area of expertise, or supporting a relief effort abroad, find out about the causes your employees are passionate about. While fundraisers or pro-bono work are fantastic opportunities to help employees feel part of philanthropy work, why not involve employees in the initial decision-making process of where to offer support? They’ll feel empowered to make a difference and through supporting a cause they feel passionate about, will be proud to be employed by your company, instilling loyalty and positive brand representation.
  1. Choose your cause and stick to it: A scattergun approach to giving back makes it difficult to make a lasting impact, so when you’ve agreed on a cause as a business, put everything you have into it. At the Greg Secker Foundation, we’ve spent the last two years rebuilding a village in the Philippines, rehoming over 500 victims of typhoon Haiyan. It’s an initiative that all Learn to Trade employees have felt part of; with some providing on the ground volunteer support in the Philippines, while others have led fundraising initiatives from local offices.
  1. Treat giving back as a core business objective: Even for small businesses, giving back should be considered an important pillar of your business model and one that is continually reflected on and measured. You need to ensure your setting measurable business objectives for your CSR efforts, assessing these at the end of every quarter/year. Consider it like you do any other business goal and plan thoroughly to ensure objectives are achieved.

Good reputation will always go a long way in terms of social currency, particularly in a David and Goliath age where a tweet can take down a corporation. To continue to attract talent and stay relevant to customers, small businesses need to look beyond the one-off charitable donations and embed giving  into their business journey, involving employees in that journey every step of the way. Do this and you will soon see the business benefits of being perceived more positively by employees and customers alike.

[1] Forbes, Workforce 2020: What you need to know now, May 5 2016
[2] Fast Company, What millennial employees really want, April 6 2015