The notion of corporate social engagement has been around for a while now. Whether these efforts have stemmed from a scandal that revealed the wrongdoings of a company or because of regulatory requirements and public pressure, CSR has now become an independent function of many businesses. Or at least for those who like to keep up with the trends and social expectations.
And while the original concept of being a good corporate citizen (in other words, companies looking after the communities they affect or work in) is definitely a good thing, the way CSR has grown into a marketing campaign, rather than anything else for many businesses, has made the term a dirty word. Same applies to ‘philanthropy’, ‘charity’ and ‘social initiative’.
There is a saying by Winston Churchill that goes like this:
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
This sums up perfectly what I think a large amount of companies fail to understand. Corporate engagement in community and environmental matters, as it is intended, is not about throwing some money back to the community because we make our revenues off it. It is about helping and supporting the community that we, as a company, are a part of.
I’m happy to notice that many people begin to understand the difference. As an executive coach and business consultant, I have the opportunity to meet the heads of various companies, from experienced businesses to start-ups, from large to as small as a few people, and all from different industries. I’m often approached with the same question – How do I get involved in a meaningful way?
There seems to be a common trend among CEOs who want to make their businesses count for more than just products or services. They want to impact lives and be a valuable member of the society as a company. And they often feel lost as they don’t know how to go about it and how to transform their business into a business with a purpose.
Well, to be honest with you, it is a process and you need to take your time devising your strategy. Here a few staring points that will lead you in the right direction:
- Think about your values and passions.
This truly is the starting point. You will never be committed and you will never give 100%, unless your cause is personal and meaningful to you. And not only to you but to your employees as well. Oftentimes, what is meaningful to you is reflected in the values of the company itself. But if you haven’t identified your values yet, then this is what you should start with.
What do you genuinely care about? What local or international problems make you want to act right now if you knew how? Just to give you a few directions – that could be environmental problems, children & education, homeless people or people suffering from certain deceases or disorders. Usually, it is something that you have seen the consequences from first hand and because you understand the issue personally. For example, a client of mine focused her legal practice towards family law, she then set up a charity to look after children. She cares about children and their future, this is her passion.
In other words, think about what matters to you. If you could make a difference in one sphere, if you could change the world towards being better in one single field – what would it be?
- Think about what you do for a living.
Think about what you do. Do you sell products? Do you offer services? What industry are you in? Who do you sell to? Which social groups do you touch, so to speak, with your products or services? Whatever you want to contribute with, it will always be best if it is aligned with your knowledge and capabilities. Why?
Well, first of all because you are an expert in your industry and surely your knowledge, skills and resources in this very field can be put to better use than into helping in a field you know nothing about. You don’t want to write a cheque, you want to actually get involved and help in a meaningful way. And secondly, because people have started to realise that CSR is nothing more but a marketing stunt for many companies, many people have become cynical towards companies’ social efforts. It would show that your efforts are genuine if they were somehow related to what you actually do or sell.
It is much easier for people to believe in your good intentions that way. Think about these two examples:
The car manufacturer Mazda raising and donating funds to organisations such as the American Heart Organisation and the Red Cross for medical research in 2013. (efforts which were not understood by many)
The pharmaceutical company Merck drawing on its employees expertise in health issues to support public health NGOs.
It’s reasonable to think that a company with health industry expertise would be better aligned than a car company to support health-related causes. Isn’t it?
- Think about your resources.
As mentioned earlier, corporate social engagement is not about just giving money away. Not that there is something inherently wrong about that, but if you want to actually make a difference, money alone just isn’t enough, and it may not necessarily be the way to go. Many of my clients who have smaller organisations worry about the fact that they don’t have the financial resources of larger corporations. And I always respond the same way: You don’t need to.
There are so many different ways that you can go about this. Think about the resources you do have, think about what you can offer.
Products/ Services: You can use your own products and services to help those who are in need. Take Pfizer for example, who donate medicine to a variety of health initiatives in developing countries. Or Warby Parker- the glass company: for every pair of glasses purchased, the company donates the equivilent of a pair of glasses to non-profits throughout the world, as well as the training for locals to give eye exams. Surely you could offer your services or products free of charge to those less privileged who can’t afford them.
Knowledge & Partners: You also have valuable knowledge and connections that, if put together, you could achieve a lot more than if you simply wrote a cheque to a charity. CISCO, for example, has aligned with various educational organisations throughout the globe to boost IT skills and help with career training for young people in poorer societies worldwide. They do this through their Networking Academy.
Don’t underestimate the knowledge you have, it could be invaluable to a number of social groups.
Employees: Last but not least, don’t forget that you have a bunch of talented and knowledgeable employees too. As mentioned in my previous article, Xerox for example, has facilitated thousands of its employees to participate in community-focused causes. IBM has the same practice – they give their employees the opportunity to get involved in specific initiatives that the company supports during their working hours.
Writing a cheque is easy, making an impact requires a little bit more because you need to integrate your effort into your strategy. But I can tell you that it is far more rewarding, far more effective and far more meaningful.
I find that many small business owners and entrepreneurs these days start to struggle with the idea of ‘supporting a cause’ or ‘supporting a charity’ just for the sake of doing it, just because the consumer expects it today. They want to actually help.
So do you want to make a living or do you want to make a life?
I believe that making a life through doing what you do for a living is really fulfilling. If you feel it is about time you tried that too, don’t hesitate to give me a shout and let’s figure out together how we can get you on the right track, and together we can grow a business that matters.