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How to Run a Socially Responsible Business That's Not Phony

October 24, 2013
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/229581

Giving back to the community or a cause your employees are passionate about can be an invaluable part of your company’s culture -- instilling a sense of purpose and bonding your team together. But because building a healthy sustainable business is a full-time job in itself, incorporating social good in on top of that can be challenging.

For my business partner and me, donating time, money and resources has always been a priority. We have instilled a sense of community responsibility in our employees by weaving philanthropy into our business from the very beginning, even starting our own 501(c)(3).

To us, this is what “social good” has meant. Whether you’re starting something as basic as a recycling plan or considering developing a volunteering project for employees, the concept has a different meaning for everyone. Where and how you execute can therefore vary greatly, but the steps it takes to develop a team culture committed to a cause are the same. 

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Here are three key steps to help you incorporate social good into your business model:

1. Build the foundation. Integrating philanthropy into your company culture is absolutely a top-down initiative. If you exemplify a commitment to a cause, your team will follow. By building a commitment to social good into the foundation of your business, it becomes ingrained in employees from their first day. Inspire an appreciation for social good and you are also inspiring camaraderie and an understanding of your company’s priorities from the very beginning.
If you’ve been in business for a while and your team culture is already established, it’s a matter of starting small. Earmark a piece of sales for charity or take one day off to give back. Whatever your end goal, consider various initiatives and how the concept can be integrated in small ways to match your overall culture and business model.

Related: When Does Being Socially Responsible Hurt Your Business?

2. Give back in a meaningful way. Just telling your team they should be passionate about a certain cause or initiative won’t generate true commitment. If employees are told they should act a certain way, it will not produce the type of outcome needed to sustain social good efforts. Adopt initiatives that have significant meaning to your company. Encourage employees from across departments to participate in shaping your philanthropic activities. Be conscientious of people’s passions and the ways in which you dedicate everyone’s time. The more you consider the cause from a team-building perspective, the more likely your company is to rally around that cause.

3. Be genuine. This is perhaps the most important quality of a great strategy: the cause needs to come from an authentic place. Why have you chosen this social good effort? What makes this initiative important to you, your company and overall business goals?

Align your efforts with a cause that means something to you and your business and your authenticity and credibility won’t be questioned. If you associate with a charity to make your company look good or win business, people will see through that.

Put simply: be smart about your giving and do it for the right reasons. Nothing establishes longevity in a company more than a culture created around doing good.

Related: What Surprised Me Most As a Social Entrepreneur