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Social Graces

Making social responsibility work for you

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Does your 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. If you think getting involved in would work for your business, here are some things to consider. First and foremost, customers can smell "phony" 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 some steps to making social responsibility work for you-and your community.

1. 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 product? Enhance your business's image?

2. Decide what cause you want to align yourself with. This may be your toughest decision, considering all the options out there: children, the environment, senior citizens, homeless people, people with disabilities . . . the list goes on. Calabria suggests considering a cause that fits in with your products or services; for example, a manufacturer of women's clothing could get involved in funding research.

3. 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.

4. Design a program, and propose it to the nonprofit group. Besides laying out what you plan to accomplish, also include tangible indicators that will measure the program's success.

5. Negotiate an agreement with the organization.

6. 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.

7. 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 children's shelter, then give them a 15% discount on new purchases.

From Start Your Own Business: The Only Start-Up Book You'll Ever Need, by Rieva Lesonsky and the staff of Entrepreneur Magazine (Entrepreneur Press)

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