Why corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn’t just for big business

13 January 2016

4 min read

Is corporate social responsibility (CSR) as pricey as many small- and medium-sized businesses think it is?  

Why corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn’t just for big business (Desktop)

Mention CSR and many SMBs balk at the mere idea. After all, corporate social responsibility schemes are expensive to implement, time-consuming to maintain and have no financial returns, right?

Wrong. In fact, adopting CSR isn’t just the right thing to do – it can be the commercially savvy thing to do. Rather than taking on grandiose “Charity of the Year Awards” or funneling cash into huge overseas projects, small businesses can make easy, affordable changes to their CSR programmes to benefit not only their communities and employees, but also their financial profits.

Beth Houghton, investment director at Palatine Private Equity, says that prioritising CSR can only help companies economically in the long term.

“Do companies that take CSR seriously see increased profits?” she asks. “I definitely think it helps – if you have a more committed staff and more engaged customers, it has to lead to more profitable and productive companies in the long run.”

Ms Houghton also points out that businesses may be involved in CSR without even trying.

“One of our companies changed its staff timetable, allowing employees to come in 15 or 20 minutes later to accommodate train times,” she says. “They thought it was a staff benefit, but it’s also an environmental benefit, because you’re encouraging people to take public transport. This is just one example of companies engaging in CSR without even realising.”

One surefire way of boosting financial returns is high employee engagement – and CSR is a guaranteed way of doing this, according to recent research by Heart of the City, which found that after joining their CSR programme – with businesses citing “business culture and values”, “right thing to do” and “staff engagement” as their top reasons for joining – companies identified the combined top two ranked benefits as staff development and helping to attract and retain employees.

Other factors included cost savings, attracting new clients and strengthening brand position.

Heart of the City’s CEO, Carolyn Housman, says that businesses can only benefit from their staff being fully engaged, adding that too many SMBs feel held back from CSR for financial reasons, when they needn’t spend a penny on it.

“CSR doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “You are only limited by your ingenuity and creativity. SMBs should use CSR as a source of innovation.

“SMBs need to engage employees and prevent them from being snapped up by larger corporates who have bigger budgets for salaries,” she adds. “One way to do that is to be a business that reflects the values of the next generation.”

“After all,” Ms Housman concludes, “how do we make business better? Helping others helps to make businesses grow and impacts the business environment positively, rather than negatively.”

For Adam Sidbury, director of Digital Fibre, CSR can be as simple as encouraging employees to become more active, believing it has a wider-reaching effect on the community.

“CSR can range from no-cost or very low-cost initiatives – such as giving staff days off work to volunteer for good causes – to high-budget strategy supported by PR or advertising,” he says. “For most small businesses, it’s low down the priority list, but a business’s CSR efforts can make a huge difference to potential clients as well as to the talent you hope to attract to your workforce.

“We are in the process of launching a health and wellbeing service using wearable technology to motivate and recognise employees who become more active in their day-to-day lifestyles, which has multiple benefits,” he adds. “The employer sees reduced sickness and absence, the employee is healthier and feels cared for and so more motivated – and there’s a knock-on effect for the NHS and the taxpayer, too.”

Shaun Thomson, CEO of Sandler Training, believes that companies using their own skills and infrastructure to develop CSR programmes will be more successful than those throwing money at elaborate schemes that aren’t related to their own businesses.

“The key is to play to your strengths and keep it local,” he says. “By developing a CSR programme that involves you using your own assets, it keeps the costs down, and by keeping it local you are increasing your profile in a place full of potential new customers and recruits.”

Paul Kenyon, EVP of Avecto, agrees that an effective CSR programme can not only engage current employees, but also attract potential new recruits.

“The benefits far outweigh any negatives,” he says. “CSR is often high on the agenda of prospective employees – they want to join a company with a conscience.”

As Ali Clabburn, founder of Liftshare, concludes: “CSR costs a fraction of what it saves us. It helps us attract great recruits, keeps our team motivated, reduces the day-to-day running costs of the business and helps us win contracts. Who wants to work for an employer without a heart?”

That might indeed be the key to creating a successful SMB: great profits, happy employees, and most importantly, the creator of both business elements: a heart.