Tag Archives: Community

CSR for Smaller Business – Getting Organised

A few months back I decided to summarise Coethica’sexperiences of supporting smaller business using CSR to help their bottom line.

The idea at the start was to demonstrate how you can quickly and inexpensively add value to your business by using concepts found within the CSR agenda.

strategyThe suggestions have been practical, easy to understand and requiring minimum financial and time investment. I’d like to bring it all together to begin to look at a more strategic approach and widen your business radar. This is where the real value of being an ethical and responsible business lies.

Initiatives are great but by understanding the bigger picture a little more you can start to embed a more efficient and profitable ethos across your company, your supply chain and to your customers.

The previous posts focused on:


To take your own CSR journey to the next stage you need to begin to properly coordinate your efforts:

Step 1

Create an internal working group of enthusiastic and talented people. Ideally you would include combinations of the following formal responsibilities dependant on your organisation; A senior manager (Chief Executive or Managing Director), financial, health & safety, human resources, and marketing.

In addition to these formal roles you would benefit with people with the following skills, experience or passions: Environment, charities / non-profits, people (company gossip can be a good choice – but be careful!), AND somebody from the coal face of your company i.e receptionist, warehouse, sales floor, call centre, etc (great opportunity to identify and nurture talent).

Even if your group only has two or three of these don’t worry it’s a start.


Step 2

Ensure the company has a realistic value / mission statement. If not, create one.

This is important as you need to be able to demonstrate your motives. It will also help you formulate your plan. It can be as simple as a list of keywords or short sentences important to the business, even the over used ones like honesty, integrity, people focused, transparency, eco-friendly, accessible, good neighbours. Pick those that are genuine and applicable both internally and externally.


Step 3

Get the group to list all potential commercial risks and opportunities (maybe already available) and then look again through environmental and social eyes to explore any missed or undervalued issues.


Step 4

Prioritise stakeholders, issues and appropriate training for your employees.


Step 5

What would you call success in 6 months? Set basic targets, i.e. measure energy saved / used, record volunteer hours, log media coverage, cost reductions, customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, productivity, accreditation etc. Choose data that is relevant and appropriate to your plan and your business.


Step 6

Get on with it for 6 months (maybe a bi-monthly working group meeting to start with?) Keep basic records that you will find useful to measure your return on invested time and finance but don’t get hung up on too much detail for now. Just do it.


Step 7

Evaluate what worked and what wasn’t as successful, review and start again from Step 2.


benefitsStep 8

Enjoy benefits and communicate all the way along!


As you become more organised and attempt to better manage your environmental and social impacts you’ll need to look at additional investment of time and money. Like any other commercial decision always use a return in investment approach, BUT try to use longer term planning periods and consider the bigger picture. It really isn’t all about the money.


If you’ve enjoyed these posts please click the RSS button on the top of  right menu bar.

I’d also love to hear from those that have used these suggestions and the benefits you’ve seen. Either leave a comment on here or send me an email direct to david.connor@coethica.com

CSR for Smaller Businesses – Community Engagement

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 – Communication


Judging by the response and comments the 10 Top CSR Tips for Small and Medium Sized Businesses post was a huge success.


The next few posts in this series are going to focus on more tips across particular themes within the CSR agenda and include Environment, Employees & Workplace, Suppliers, Community Engagement, Charity / Good Causes and Communication.


I’m still trying to keep the management jargon out to make this as easy to implement and see results as soon possible. I will also look to widen the discussion beyond pure commercial returns and address the other environmental and social benefits to reinforce why all businesses can, and need to play their part.



This week’s topic is:



CommunicationBoy making a funny face


I’ve bypassed Environment and Employees even though these are probably the two biggest areas to look at in terms of actions and gone straight to Communication. The reason for this is simple. Almost every small business (not all, there are a few baddies out there!) is already engaging in nuggets of ad hoc or reactive great CSR initiatives but most don’t know or understand them fully. I’m focusing on communication because everybody can benefit today, right now.


To help you understand this I need you to take 10 minutes to ask yourself the following questions.

Please take the effort to write your answers down on recycled paper:


1.   Has your organisation ever given cash or support to a charity or good cause? This includes allowing employees to fundraise on work time, local junior sports clubs, churches etc.

2.   Do you recycle or have you reduced your energy usage or waste in any way?

3.   Has your organisation ever gone beyond basic legal requirements to recruit, improve productivity or retain your employees?

4.   How do you select a supplier? Is it just about best price or do you use only local businesses, or consider environmental issues?

5.   Does your organisation have a formal or informal list of values about how you should operate on a daily basis?

6.   Has your organisation ever helped another business out without asking for payment?



I’m no clairvoyant or magician but I think your piece of paper has a few notes.


The big question is who have you told and how did you tell them about these great initiatives? I know small businesses don’t have marketing departments or external agencies, or in most cases even somebody internally responsible for marketing. This should be everybody’s responsibility. Most marketing people don’t really understand how best to use this ammunition anyway.



Rule 1 – Just Do It!


So how do we avoid missing the moment, getting stung with a ‘greenwash’ label or sticking our head too far above the parapet? My rule of thumb is, if you’ve acted on your best intentions, achieved something real with integrity and you feel comfortable with that – go for it! It’s in the owners / managers / shareholders interest to raise the company profile whenever possible! It’s also great for raising the profile of any worthy cause you support.



Rule 2 – Be Selfish


The first thing you need to do with any good news is put it on your own website, Facebook page, Twitter, notice board, note by watercooler – whatever you control yourself. It’s your news. Wouldn’t your customers like to hear it from you first, as well as backed up by another source?



Rule 3 – Tell Everybody


Don’t just focus on getting media coverage with a view to increasing sales. Put as much effort into telling everybody internally (employees) and close connections (suppliers, customers). Use your newsletter (or start one), sales PowerPoints, notice boards, team meetings, employee handbook – everywhere! One good tip is to identify the company gossip and get them involved in the initiatives themselves!



Rule 4 – Befriend the local media


You don’t need a PR agency or marketing department to ring the local paper and say ‘hello who would be interested in this story?’. Local coverage is usually free and great advertising. I would strongly encourage somebody to actually ring, not email and make a personal connection with the best person you can at the local paper or radio – even in today’s online dominated society. It may even cost you a whole lunch. Good stories in the local press can get picked up nationally – don’t underestimate the local press! You may not get instant direct sales from this but it will seriously begin to build your company’s reputation.



Rule 5 – Get others to do your work

If you’ve delivered a project with a partner or good cause get them to help with your profile. They will probably have their own media opportunities and networks you can use, as long as you’ve spent the time to build a good relationship. Charities have big databases and PR expertise!



local-paperRule 6 – The media prefer bad news


After 8 years winning awards for Everton Football Club by creating ground-breaking community projects I know how hard it can be to get press coverage for anything ‘good’. Bad news sells papers unfortunately. There has to be an angle or human interest story to get the media hooked. Try to be creative. Focus on an individual member of staff or person / project that benefited and their personal story, rather than trying to sell the business advert every time – people (and the media especially) want to read about people. Always include basic contact details such as company name, website, logo or phone number somewhere and hope it makes it past the editing!



Rule 7 – Word of Mouth


In my opinion, this is one of the best ways of communication for building reputation. It’s not great for selling directly but absolutely fantastic for a slower burn and credibility. Your aim is to get people talking about you as much as possible. You have to give people something talk about even if you company isn’t the big story. A bit part in a big story can work wonders.



Rule 8 – Complaints are wonderfulgreenpeace-activist


Whenever you talk about most areas of CSR you can easily stimulate passionate discussion, especially as humans we enjoy catching people out. Conversation can head toward climate change, sweatshops, sexual harassment and many emotive subjects. Grasp this opportunity with both hands, don’t be afraid of this. As I said earlier, if it’s a good initiative done with best intentions go for it. You may well find an awkward individual intent on loudly disagreeing or attempt to turn the story around for their own ends. Treat this like any customer complaint and engage in an open, honest communication and you could

potentially have a great salesperson in the making

if handled well.


Okay, that was probably as much PR for dummies as CSR.


Just remember if your business sees something tangible from your CSR initiatives they are more likely to do it again and hopefully bigger and better, which is great news for all those issues out there that need our help. It’s just about identifying the best win-win scenarios for everybody.



What suggestions have you got to help smaller business communicate to get the most out of the CSR approach?



10 Top CSR Tips for Smaller Businesses


This is the first article in a series that will demonstrate how you can make your business better without any preaching about saving the planet or becoming a charitable saint, but please try your best if that is important to you.

One definition of Corporate Social Responsibility is:

“To balance economic, environmental and social impacts whilst maximising commercial benefits.”

It is entirely up to you where your balance point is. The key thing to remember is by considering all three aspects it can make your business more profitable and better for those who work there, your suppliers, your customers, your community and the environment.

Think of CSR as an ethos that helps you make decisions rather than a range of do-gooder initiatives and you’ve already learnt a valuable lesson.

I’ve spent years talking to smaller companies and trying to understand what will make a difference to them. Their answer is nearly always ‘What’s in it for me?’ My answer is more profit, greater longevity, integrity and a smile.

Here is a list of quick wins you can do today, at little or no cost that can have a tangible impact:


1. Take the ‘C’ word out of CSR!

The phrase Corporate Social Responsibility has been around for a while now and often confused with other terms such as sustainability, corporate citizenship, responsible business conduct, ethical business, environment, philanthropy, charitable etc. They all mean slightly different things but getting hung up on terminology is missing the point at this stage.

It is just good business practice that focuses on areas that, especially for smaller businesses, are not at the centre of your business radar. Think of this as the start of a process that will open up your vision to risks and opportunities that you can begin to manage more efficiently and gain an advantage over your competitors.

These tips apply to all small and medium sized businesses regardless of your product or service.


2. Don’t get caught up in a price war

Competing solely on price is a dangerous game and not to be played by the faint hearted. You should be aiming to win and retain custom by delivering a perception of added value. If you charge the same price your competitor why would they buy from you? Even the smallest companies have a brand. What is yours saying?


3. Check those energy bills

Many company’s bills are paid by the finance department without regularly checking the meter. I know of one company that was owed over £30,000 because the meter was being read using the wrong units! It pays to read it yourself, check your tariff and check your bills.

A green tariff would be better and they’re getting much more price competitive.standby

We all know about energy being used whilst equipment is in standby mode. Even if something doesn’t have a little red light and a formal standby mode it could still be using energy whilst plugged in.

In the UK recent figures suggested that on average businesses waste 20% of their energy. What’s 20% of your energy bill?


4. Use recycled paper

What’s in it for me? – Recycled paper today can be as good as your normal paper and at a similar price. Ok, but what’s in it for me? – You can do it without any effort, your staff will appreciate it (even if they say they’re sceptical) and any visitors will notice if they see the packets as they walk around the office. The question should really be ‘Why not do it?’

This rule is more about the thought process and you can apply it to anything you purchase. Is there a recycled option at a comparable price? Just ask.


5. Charities and Good Causes

Get a charity to work for you! This isn’t as mercenary as it may sound.

We are encouraging mutual benefit through a little relationship building. Do you have spare resources i.e. staff downtime, waste materials or media access you could trade in return for access to contacts or free PR? Support good causes but don’t just hand over a cheque.

Just about every business I know gives resources away each year with 90% reacting to random requests. I’m definitely not saying don’t give money to charities, just be smart and have a plan.


5. Flexible working

This isn’t just about letting people work from home it is about accommodating employees whenever practical to the business. Being flexible with hours, i.e. staggering starting and finish times to avoid rush hour / child minding, allowing people to work their 35 or so hours over four or six days, job sharing, etc. It’s the flexibility that both you and your staff will benefit from.

Remote working from home is a great idea where appropriate. The biggest obstacle is management overcoming the fear of not being able to look over employees shoulders to check on them. If you can’t trust your employees it doesn’t really matter where they are. It may need a change in management style but if an employee has a certain number of defined and measureable objectives to achieve it is a no brainer. In many cases productivity is seen to rise by 20 – 30% on top of energy savings (travel to work included), reduction in space requirements. You biggest problem may be stopping your staff work too much!

6. Engage with your staff

Communication with your employees has never been more important. Make them feel like they are part of the longer term solution not the shorter term problem. Newsletters, accessible management staff and transparency often reap unexpected rewards and stimulate innovation.


healthyworkpic_105110448_std7. Get training

We will emerge someday on the horizon from the current economic position. Will your staff be ready to compete at the highest level? Now is a great time to access funding and improve your employee’s qualifications whilst improving retention and productivity rates.


8. Government money

Are you fully exploiting your excellent to approach to being responsible by winning public sector contracts? Best price is not always the deciding factor in this competition. Governments are really pushing low carbon economies through their own spending power. Has your company got an environmental or community competitive edge?


9. Redundancies

If you do need to make redundancies make sure you fully understand proper procedure. As well as ensuring compliance can you look to help those being made redundant with their next career step? Working in partnership with appropriate external agencies maybe all that it takes.


10. Silver linings

With every recession come new opportunities to do business. There is a substantial ‘green’ agenda to just about every country’s economic stimulus packages. How can your business make the most of these?


Well, that’s the start of the journey. You might think ‘that’s just good management’ and you’d be right. The first lesson in CSR is its just good business practice.









Please recycle any additional CSR tips for smaller businesses in the comment box for others to share!


See you next week.