Social Responsibility

Definition: Acting with concern and sensitivity, aware of the impact of your actions on others, particularly the disadvantaged

Does your business use recycled paper products or donate to a homeless shelter? A growing number of consumers consider such factors when deciding whether to patronize your business. A company's "social responsibility" quotient can make a difference to its bottom line.

If you think getting involved in social causes would work for your business, here are some things to consider. First and foremost, customers can smell "phony" social responsibility a mile away, so unless you're really committed to a cause, don't try to exploit customers' concerns to make a profit.

Here are a few steps you can take to make social responsibility work for you:

  • Set goals. What do you want to achieve? What do you want your company to achieve? Do you want to enter a new market? Introduce a new product? Enhance your business's image?
  • Decide what cause you want to align yourself with. This may be your toughest decision, considering all the option out there: children, the environment, senior citizens, homeless people, people with disabilities--the list goes on. You might want to consider a cause that fits in with your products or services. For example, a manufacturer of women's clothing could get involved in funding breast cancer research. Another way to narrow the field is by considering not only causes you feel strongly about, but also those that your customers consider significant.
  • Choose a nonprofit or other organization to partner with. Get to know the group, and make sure it's sound, upstanding, geographically convenient and willing to cooperate with you in developing a partnership.
  • Design a program, and propose it to the nonprofit group. Besides laying out what you plan to accomplish, also include indicators that will measure the program's success in tangible terms.
  • Negotiate an agreement with the organization. Know what they want before you sit down, and try to address their concerns upfront.
  • Involve employees. Unless you get employees involved from the beginning, they won't be able to communicate the real caring involved in the campaign to customers.
  • Involve customers. Don't just do something good and tell your customers about it later. Get customers involved, too. A sporting goods store could have customers bring in used equipment for a children's shelter, then give them a 15 percent discount on new purchases. Make it easy for customer to do good; then reward them for doing it.
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