The sole purpose of business is to increase profits for its owners. At least that is what economist and Nobel laureate Milton Friedman suggested in his 1970 New York Times essay that remains among the most controversial business theories of the past half century.
How times have changed. Today, 86 percent of consumers expect companies to take action to improve their local communities and the world, and those consumers are being heard loud and clear. In 2011, roughly 20 percent of the S&P 500 Index companies published corporate social responsibility reports; by 2017 that number had increased to 85 percent. A PwC Global survey found that 64 percent of CEOs view as core to their business strategy, noting that it helps increase trust across all their key stakeholders.
With all its benefits, social responsibility is not merely an approach for big companies anymore. Giving back helps make a business of any size better, stronger and more relevant.
Is your business ready to start or expand on what you are already doing? Here are five steps to build a competitive advantage for your business by doing good.
1. GET A GOOD FIT
You’re running a lean business, and every dollar, every minute matters, so don’t spread yourself too thin or initiate a hodgepodge of unrelated projects. There are an endless number of great causes to support an animal shelter; a grocer could sponsor a community garden; a bank could offer financial management education to young adults. Your community involvement needs to be authentic to who you are as a business and enhance your overall brand and reputation. The best ways to do that are to match your mission with your values, select causes that are relevant and matter to your employees and customers and, most importantly, choose areas where you can make a significant impact.
2. EMPOWER YOUR TEAM
Once you have a cause tied to your business brand, it’s time to engage your people. You need them to carry out your cause and be ambassadors of your company throughout the community. It starts with your leadership. Share your vision for community involvement, what goals you want to achieve, how efforts connect back to your business and values, and then lead by example. Encourage your employees to have a voice in developing,implementing and leading your new community initiatives. If you want your community efforts to become a movement rather than just a moment, employees need to take ownership of them.
3. ASSESS WHAT YOU CAN GIVE
You don’t need to be in the million-dollar club to make a meaningful donation. A financial donation of any amount to a local charity can have real impact. There are many donation options beyond writing a check. Do you have resources you can lend during off hours? Why let surplus materials or products go to waste? In-kind contributions – donations of goods, services or time – can be just as valuable and offer you an opportunity to showcase your products and services while giving employees a chance to put their expertise toward something they are passionate about. Offering your employees’ talents is a great way to help strengthen cross-team relationships, boost your employees’ skill sets and develop future leaders.
4. SEEK AND BUILD PARTNERSHIPS
Whatever cause you select, it’s likely there are nonprofits dedicated to that issue. Do research to create a short list of potential organizations to partner with. Ask around your network for recommendations and pick up the phone to speak with them directly. If you’re seeking ways to deepen your community connections, focus on local activities to make it easier for your employees—and customers—to participate. Rather than limiting giving to a season, look for ways to give year-round. Doing so creates greater opportunities to interact with people who could become new customers, the steady exposure builds positive word of mouth, and it gives your employees opportunities to strengthen ties to their community, making their service even more rewarding.
While business is competitive, giving thrives on collaboration. If you see other businesses taking on the same cause as you, join forces. Combining your resources and splitting the work can help you achieve greater impact.
5. SHARE YOUR STORY
There is a school of thought that giving back is a private, personal obligation. That makes sense; after all, we are taught as children to give without expecting anything in return, so it’s only natural that expecting something in return may make the act feel less genuine. But there is another side of that coin. Consumers across all generations are using their purchasing power to support companies that help them make the world a better place. This influences their buying decisions, and when businesses proactively get the word out about the good they do, they gain a powerful advantage over those that do not.
Kindness is contagious. Sharing your stories about doing good inspires more kindness. The doer, receiver and anyone observing a kind act experiences an emotional lift and becomes motivated to act altruistically as well. In fact, reminiscing about an act of kindness encourages us to do good again. But kindness requires constant positive reinforcement; it needs to stay visible to exert its viral effect.
It’s never too early or too late to start doing good. If you are already doing good, evaluate your efforts to see how you can further align them with your business objectives. Community involvement delivers the greatest returns when it’s viewed as a long- term commitment. With a united team, like-minded partnerships and work that doubles as goodwill, giving back can be one of the most fulfilling and valuable marketing investments you make.
Wherever you are on the doing good continuum, seedership®, a kindness-based social impact platform, can make the process easier, faster and more dynamic. Its platform enables you to track, visualize and share the good you do as well as engage employees to amplify your impact. An interactive dashboard automates the aggregation of good, lets you create news posts in a consistent format optimized for social media platforms and builds a profile with a visual representation of your community contributions. In addition, seedership® provides a virtual community where you can find other businesses and nonprofits to collaborate with so you can do good together.