Social Engagement Ideas for Professional Service Firms

Without a doubt Corporate Social Engagement has grown into one of the hottest topics over the last decade both in the business world and in society in general. The fact is consumers care about it so businesses have no choice but to follow suit.

Sadly, there still are a lot of companies that look at their responsibility towards society as another annoying side of the business they have to pay for. This is why their efforts in the social domain are usually fragmented, non-strategic and downright superficial. Their efforts are more often than not a waste of time and resources as they have little to no impact over the long run. Such businesses do nothing but just tick the CSR box.

At the same time, however, the number of entrepreneurs who genuinely want to contribute is growing. Whether it is a natural urge among people following years of consumerism and focus on capitalism or it is generational, but it is a fact.

Being a business mentor and philanthropy endeavours consultant, I often meet business owners who are as concerned about growing their business as they are about leaving a legacy and making a difference that goes beyond writing the odd cheque to a non-profit organisation.

I find that many entrepreneurs, and especially professional firms and service providers, struggle as to how to approach philanthropy so their effort is sustainable but also optimal in the impact they make.

If you are a professional service firm and you find yourself in the same situation, here are a few ideas for you.

Work for free

As I’ve said before – when it comes to making a difference money really is not everything. A lot of professional service providers and especially the smaller ones underestimate what they can offer. Your knowledge and what you do for your clients in terms of expertise is among your biggest assets. There are many underprivileged groups out there that need your services but mightn’t be able to afford them. It may be non-profits dedicated to a cause that you support or social entrepreneurs or young people from poor communities that would be grateful for your help.  The HERO|farm for example, which is a social mission focused marketing and design agency does at least one pro-bono campaign a year for a non-profit organisation. Whether an accountant, an event management company, a consultant, a software company, a web design company or any other professional company, you could easily find someone in need who you could help doing what you excel at.

Give time   

Lending a hand can go a long way. However, unlike many of the larger businesses out there, don’t just volunteer for the sake of it. Select carefully the organisations you give your time to in terms of what they do. Your efforts need to tie in with your organisation’s scope of social purpose. For instance, if you were a property estate agency and your target group of social impact was homeless people, you may want to partner a non-profit that provides free meals or clothes to homeless people. You could dedicate Friday afternoons to handing out meals or collecting and handling old clothes for the homeless, or with anything else that is needed and supports this group of people. Just as an example, IBM provides its employees with an opportunity to participate in solving critical community issues in emerging economies for a whole month. They do that through IBMs program Corporate Service Corps that has sent people to more than 30 countries around the world since the program was launched in 2008.

You don’t need to do anything on such a large scale but every effort counts. Imagine if every business was doing their part helping just their local community!

Share knowledge & expertise

Another way to help is to pass down your knowledge and skills. If you were a solicitor for example and your domain of social impact was education, what you could do is partner an organisation that provides free courses for people in poor communities, orphans or homeless people getting back on their feet.  The management consulting firm Deloitte for example does a significant amount of skills-based volunteering every year, allowing its employees to put their skills and talent to use for non-profits. And if you can’t find a non-profit organisation in your area that is suitable, why not start an initiative yourself? You could teach business skills or even knowledge and skills in your professional domain. Put some time into organising it and dedicate a couple of hours to that every week. Apart from being a great cause for obvious reasons, sharing your expertise through offering free courses is also good for your reputation as a professional in your field.

There are various ways to get involved and contribute to a greater good. And whether you do it independently or you partner with an organisation, what is essential is that your activities tie in with a well-rounded strategy of social purpose and mission and that you are consistent in what you do. What many companies still fail to understand is that random efforts here and there don’t really make an impact. Your first job is to identify a cause (i.e. healthcare) or target group (children) that you feel passionate about. And preferably these need to be somehow related to what you do as an organisation. Then you need to figure out what the best way is for you to help by giving your resources and the expertise you have.

If you are also looking for ways to make a difference and don’t know where to start, please don’t hesitate to contact me. As a business coach specialising on philanthropy and corporate social engagement, I would be happy to talk to you and help you integrate a social mission into your business in a meaningful way. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.

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