16 October 2020|Business Growth, Crisis Management, Latest Posts
By Shon Alam, Bidwedge. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has been around for year but I would say the ethos behind it is still as important as ever, if not more so and something that startups should be looking at from their inception. We’re currently living in a low trust world where it seems everyone is just out for themselves and what they can take from life. But the tide is turning.
Before the pandemic started, people were already looking for a different approach, wanting a world where business is more than just about making money. They had also started demanding transparency – just saying ‘we do what we can’ was no longer enough; they wanted specifics about supply chains, fair trade, good working conditions, environmental responsibility and so on. The pandemic hasn’t stopped this, if anything it has crystallised it, with all of us more aware than ever of our impact on the planet and its fragile balance.
So, for entrepreneurs CSR is more important than ever; for the long-term survival of your startup and the future of the planet.
Of course, it’s true that some customers won’t care. They will buy on price or because a brand name is more important to them. However, a growing majority do care and these people, whether they are buying as a business or as a consumer, they are looking for companies that care and are about more than just the money. They want to buy responsibly, and they want details to prove that they are doing so. They don’t want to be fobbed-off with greenwash; they want to know what you are doing as a business, and what that means. And in many cases, they are willing to pay a bit more for it.
What is included in CSR?
CSR can be undertaken in many different ways. For example, resource donations (e.g. product, time, staff, etc.), financial donations, offering pro-bono work for charities or the vulnerable in society, co-marketing to promote a charitable cause, and having specific, clear, publicly announced ethics (e.g. carbon zero, LGBTQ-friendly, vegan, no investment in drugs or weapons etc.)
As well as being good for business all these approaches can help build your brand, boost staff morale, make a positive contribution, while also being the right thing to do.
And for those customers that don’t care, having good CSR won’t put them off. So, you have nothing to lose. But many customers do care – so why lose their business? By having good CSR you attract more people, you stand out from your competitors, and you show that you care about the long-term future. I believe the expression is ‘win-win’!
Here are some examples of different approaches to CSR. Take a look at see what could be applied to your business:
Give a financial donation for every transaction
A clear and easy way to practise CSR is to donate a percentage or a given sum to a charity or organisation with every transaction. For example, at Bidwedge, we are all mad about cats, so we partnered with Born Free. When changing your unwanted foreign currency back into Sterling, you can opt to donate the full amount to Born Free (via the Bidwedge platform) and we’ll donate 100% of our handling fee, or if you’d prefer to keep the cash yourself, we’ll still donate 50% of our handling fee. All the money donated goes directly to support Born Free’s big cat sanctuaries at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/shamwari-big-cat-rescue-sanctuary.
Another example is UK insurance broker Club Insure, which announced earlier this year that it aims to raise £75,000 for Prostate Cancer UK by donating £5 for every new or renewed insurance policy.
Donating in-line with your brand
There are also many organisations which donate something allied to their brand. This can give a fun and / or memorable message for the organisation. For example, Who Gives A Crap’s tagline “toilet paper that builds toilets” tells you what their business is and what their charitable contribution is, while showing itself as a fun brand, with the nudge towards toilet humour. And they do donate a very generous 50% of their profits to help build toilets in developing world countries where access to sanitation is limited.
Green Tomato Cars is another ethical brand, founded to provide an eco-friendly car service in London. They aim to do their bit towards improving air quality in London and were the first operators in London to use the Toyota Prius. Not only that, they offset their unavoidable emissions by supporting The Ugandan Improved Cookstoves project. This subsidises the sale of charcoal cookstoves and fuel-efficient biomass and across Uganda which improves cooking conditions and reduces indoor air pollution.
Donating product like-for-like
Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, the smart money might well be on give-one-away-for-every-one-bought. It certainly worked for Dashel, who gave away one of their stylish recycled cycle helmets to an NHS keyworker for each one bought online during lockdown. Not only did they give a real benefit to NHS workers choosing to cycle to work, rather than risk public transport, they showed themselves to be a truly ethical company and, in turn, found their helmets very much in demand.
Stand4socks is another brand that donates one product for each sold. They create socks from sustainably sourced yarns, have ethical working conditions and sustainable packaging. But arguably, what really sets them apart is that they recognised that the most requested items from homeless shelters are socks. So, they designed what they believe to be the most suitable socks for homeless people and donate a pair with every sale.
For startups with limited resources volunteering is a great way to contribute. A lot of the big organisations offer what’s known as Corporate Volunteering Days. Nationwide Building Society, for example, gives their employees two paid days per annum for volunteer activities. Of course, this may be harder for small businesses but even a couple of half days might make a difference and boost morale, while you are building your startup and your contribution.
Alternatively, you may have services that you can provide to a smaller charity. Perhaps you can offer to set up some social media activity or give an hour each week to advise on financial administration or software. Reach Volunteering is a platform connecting businesses with skills they want to offer with organisations looking for help: https://reachvolunteering.org.uk/
I hope these examples of successful CSR will provide inspiration for your startup and that you’ll introduce your own CSR.
Here are some tips to help you on your way:
1) Choose something that resonates with you and/or your startup
2) Don’t choose something simply because it makes you look good. You clients (and your team) will see through it, and you will find it difficult to sustain if your heart’s not really in it.
3) If you have a big staff, consider allowing them to choose what they want to do and how they want to contribute. You’ll get better buy in that way and they will enjoy it even more!
4) Something is always better than nothing so if necessary, start small. Once you’ve got going you’ll find it easier to expand your contribution.
5) And announce it on your social media, on your website, maybe even on your packaging. Just be sure to let people know what you are doing.
There are so many good causes and charities needing help, so there will definitely be something to suit you. Teaming up with a big name can give the business added kudos; supporting a local charity makes sense if your market is primarily local; getting involved with a smaller charity can work well if you’re looking to make a big difference or would like reciprocal exposure.
As discussed, CSR can cover a wide range of activities and different types of contribution.
Find something manageable that will work for you at your current stage of business growth. Your startup can make a different right from the beginning of your journey.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shon Alam is founder of Bidwedge. Bidwedge makes it easy to change your left-over cash currency back into Sterling – at great rates for even the smallest amounts. Just enter the amount, see the rate you’ll be paid, post the cash and watch the money appear in your bank account. It’s easy to do.
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