In an age when tweets about an earthquake move faster than the human experience of the tremors themselves, good global citizenship is nearly impossible to fake. I could prove this by producing charts and graphs showing how your company culture impacts your profits, employee turnover, job satisfaction and media coverage.
But, graphs or no, the bottom line is this: If the point of starting your business was to find fulfillment and happiness in doing something you love, you should feel something similar about the end product. This "end" result is just as important as the money you make along the way.
Want to feel good about your own company's "end result"? Here are 7 steps to help you create a business you can be proud of.
1. Think about your stakeholders.
If achieving happiness is not tantalizing enough for you to become more socially responsible, consider instead the stakeholders of your company: your investors, channel partners, customers, employees and surroundng community. How you operate affects the lives of each of these groups. So, the goals you set should take all of them into account.
2. Define your mission.
Most companies have a mission statement that provides the framework to build the business. Corporate responsibility is no different. Some companies choose to integrate their social goals into their business agenda (think TOMs shoes or Persnickety Clothing), but your business might be wise to have a separate “corporate social responsibility” mission/vision statement.
3. Find out what is important to you.
Profits are important; that’s a given. But, what else is important to you? Perhaps even more crucial is, what is important to your customers? For General Mills, the future of education is what drives the company -- a great mission choice, since many cereal and snack food decision-makers happen to be parents. Whatever your mission, it needs to be something you are honestly passionate about, or it will never stick.
4. Look for opportunities.
Once you’ve decided what’s important, figure out how to help. Writing a check is often not the answer. Take your stockholders into account -- they expect that profit we spoke of. Learn about the issue and ask current influencers what will make a real difference. Even a small startup with no available cash flow can get positively involved in community service. Some products are inherently socially responsible. For example, Suncrest Diamonds takes imperfect, perhaps unwanted stones and processes them to create high-grade colored diamonds for jewelry. Considering the ethical controversies over "blood diamonds" (also called "conflict diamonds") from certain African nations, Suncrest's actions are both responsible and good for the bottom line.
5. Consider a partnership.
Sometimes there is no need to start a CSR strategy from scratch. If your company and your passion match up with another organization’s goals, don’t hesitate to cooperate with them to forward your mission. If you can integrate your efforts with an established program, your time, money and social capital will go that much further. The recent merger of the Elizabeth Smart Foundation with Operation Underground Railroad to battle human trafficking illustrates a perfect such matchup. Just make sure you vet collaborative opportunities. You don’t want to be involved with a group that isn’t transparent, or someone who's hypocritical about what he or she supports.
6. Mean what you say.
Every person with a computer or smartphone is a potential public critic of your company. Online reviewers, influencers, and commentators can smell an insincere campaign half a mile away, and your reputation will suffer for it. Pilmer, the reputation management firm, likes to quote Mark Twain, who said, "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is still putting on its shoes." So, back up your company’s corporate social responsibility mission with genuine passion, words, and actions. If you don’t take yourself seriously, nobody else will, either.
7. First, do good. Then talk about it -- in that order.
If you are doing good things as a company, don’t be afraid to talk about it once your CSR ball gets rolling. There’s no reason that you can’t earn goodwill for causes that you are contributing to as a company. And talking about your part in philanthropy efforts is good PR for your chosen cause, which in turn helps further your CSR plans.
With social responsibility, you gain back what you put in. If you are carefully considering your company’s impact on the world and evaluating your decisions accordingly, you’re already doing something right.