How to (realistically) be a socially responsible business

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A Guide to Giving Back

In this day and age there is an expectation from customers that businesses are socially responsible. But it can definitely become an ethical minefield, and small businesses don’t necessarily have enough cash flow to be giving back to the community in a huge way.

We have looked into socially responsible business practices from the perspective of the business, and from the point of view of not-for-profit organisations to find the best way to integrate charity work into your business.

1. Establish WHY you want to “give back”, (honestly).

Why is it that you think you should be giving to charity? Establish this early on, because the time and energy you dedicate to your charity initiative will make your motivations clear further down the track.

What is important to you? If the cause is something you are passionate about, you will find it less difficult to dedicate time and resources to supporting it.

2. WHAT are you going to give?

You could give something you already sell if it’s relevant to the charity. For example, Plum is a retail business that sells kids and baby fashion and accessories and baby sleep bags. They give 5% of the sales of their sleep bags to ‘SIDS and Kids’.

Look above and beyond traditional “donations”, you can give more than just money. While that seems like the easiest option, you may not be in a position to donate money immediately if your business is still growing.

You could create something specifically for the cause. If you’re a good public speaker you could run educational seminars and awareness programs.

Alternatively, if the charity needs a space to run their operation from and you have a spare area in your office you could dedicate that space to them.

You could dedicate your time, every month you could spend a day working for the charity. You could make trips overseas twice a year to help out in remote or underprivileged areas of the world.

What about connections? Who do you know in your own business network that would be able to help the charity as well? Get them on board and build up awareness and support for your charity of choice.

Top tip: Ask the charity for donation ideas.

The charity knows what they truly need, and what will benefit their cause. There are examples of thousands of toys being donated for underprivileged children, when what they need most is medicine or sleeping gear. Get in touch with your charity of choice from an early stage to establish a working relationship that will benefit both parties.

3. HOW are you going to give back?

You need to speak directly with the charity to find out their process. Is there a certain time of year they need the most donations or more awareness?

You could organise a structured donation program, where five per cent of every sale of a certain item goes directly to the charity, such as Plum and their Sleep Bag sales.

If you’re offering a special service or program, how often are you going to run the program? How much time and energy are you going to dedicate to organisation this program?

You could establish a time frame (monthly or quarterly) and calculate a certain percentage of your profit from that time. Work it in with your existing business practices, when are you calculating your profits already? Make that the time where you take out your percentage. Setting a time frame guarantees the charity a monthly or quarterly donation.

Consider offering a fixed amount per product or service, rather than a percentage. This is particularly useful for service based businesses where the cost of service is not fixed. For instance, a website and social media marketing company might choose to make a $10 donation for every website built and a $5 donation for every social media strategy. An accounting firm might offer a $5 donation for every individual tax return completed or a $10 donation for every company set up.

For transparency, it’s also good to keep an ongoing charity donation report and send it along with your contribution, your accountant will be able to discuss with you the logistics and legality of this.

Whatever you decide on, do your best to stick to that commitment.

Be realistic; start small if you need to. You don’t need to donate large amounts of your time or profit to be charitable. A small, consistent and reliable contribution is just as valuable, most charities welcome any assistance. You can always increase your donation once your business has grown.

4. BE GENUINE and open about your charity work from day one.

While customers value a business that is socially responsible, they are also quick to sniff out a publicity stunt. Don’t hype up your contribution if it’s not that big. Be honest about how much you’re giving, and why. Show your dedication to the charity to be an ongoing relationship or collaboration, rather than a one-off obligatory good-will deed.

If you liked this, you will probably also enjoy this blog post on everyday ethical business practices…

Examples from:

Sydney Morning Herald