Social, environmental and economic responsibility practices are changing, and even small to mid-sized businesses must adapt to what is increasingly becoming a new management paradigm.
The marketplace dynamics have really changed with respect to discussions about “doing good in society,” more commonly referred to as corporate social responsibility.
What used to be a simple matter of donating money has now become a critical component of reputation management and cultivating a competitive business edge.
Companies now have to better integrate their philanthropic contributions into their business functions, and make it a core part of their strategic marketing and communications planning.
Small to mid-size companies often have an advantage over their larger peers engaging in this new frontier, as they are able to adapt to these challenges more quickly.
A great place to begin is by asking the right questions upfront:
- The cause target: How will my company properly contribute to the community to advance public interest?
- The value proposition: What impact will this have on our brand, our stakeholders and our performance?
- The evaluation and measurement plan: How do we demonstrate the effectiveness of what we’re doing over the long-term? Many companies fixate on demonstrating philanthropic impact within the earning season and their own bottom line. However, sustainable development is a long-term process.
- Transparency: How can we be more accountable? Stakeholders want to know what progress you’re making. Even if you don’t say, “We saved two trees or three kids’ lives,” what steps are you taking towards your goals?
If you’re just starting out with a philanthropic endeavor, be sure you have good answers to these questions upfront. And if you already have a long-term funding relationship with a nonprofit you don’t want to lose, asking these questions might enhance the way you work together.
It’s not enough, however, for senior management to undertake this critical discussion alone.
Take an integrated approach
Corporate-philanthropy efforts must adopt an integrated approach upfront. Not only should an organization’s philanthropy reflect the consensus of all its stakeholders, it should be part of a company’s vision and culture.
Making your company’s philanthropy part of human resources, even asking employees to donate some of their time to the effort, will empower your staff across all departments and divisions.
Do your research
The next step is research, the key goal of which should be understanding which causes mean the most to your company and its stakeholders. A lot of companies skip corners with research. Customers and stakeholders want to be asked what causes they want to be advocated on their behalf.
A company’s philanthropy shouldn’t steer too far away from its core product and corporate social responsibility can be integral to product development.
Don’t reinvent the wheel, but make an impact that speaks to your specific community. For smaller businesses, there are many opportunities to get engaged with not-so-well known nonprofits that represent a diverse range of causes.
Choose a smaller group working on that big issue you want to impact – child welfare, HIV/AIDS, ecology – that maybe has been around a long time doing great things that have been overlooked. Don’t fund the same national nonprofit that all the big corporations already support.
Market, but collaboratively
A lot of companies make the mistake of not properly marketing their philanthropy to key stakeholders. You go to their websites to look for their philanthropic intent, and you can’t find it.
It’s one thing to announce publicly what you’re going to do, but you also have to make sure your programs are properly communicated to your employees, manufacturers and distributors.
Corporate social responsibility reports and regular updates are a great vehicle for sharing the impact of your philanthropy: how it relates to your brand, product and company values; how it has increased employee productivity; how it has become a source of innovation and growth for both the nonprofits you’re funding and the company itself.
But when you communicate, do it jointly. A lot of companies don’t collaborate enough with the nonprofits they fund or work with.
For example, if you invested in a major sponsorship or event such as a museum opening, it is important to demonstrate what impact your money is making, beyond just the logo on the front door.
Nonprofits should be treated as visionaries. They have the expertise, research and resources working all over the world in places where smaller companies may be looking to expand their business.
Don’t take all the credit. Work to become integrated in community development and outreach, as well as collaborative grass-roots education campaigns. Give your nonprofit partners the chance to say that they’re part of the partnership, too.
Sam Taylor is founder of Reputation Dynamics, a New York City-based responsibility advisory services company for nonprofit and for-profit groups. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.