Today, it's not enough for your company to have a good product, excellent customer service or a fantastic employee benefits package. That’s all expected, and your competitors probably stack up evenly on those criteria.
What can set your brand apart in today’s competitive landscape is that your company exists not just to make money, but to help solve a problem or otherwise better society.
“Customers today want to do business with responsible companies that reflect their personal values,” Trisa Thompson, chief responsibility officer at Dell, told me through a spokesperson. “Having a greater purpose and embedding it into the DNA of your business is critical to developing deeper relationships with customers in an age when creating meaningful connections is getting harder and harder.”
Indeed, customers want to operate their own sustainable businesses and do business with other responsible companies that embed sustainability in everything they do. When presented with brands with comparable price and quality, 89 percent of Americans surveyed said they were likely to switch brands to one associated with a cause, according to a Cone Communications Social Impact Study.
A 2015 survey from marketing agency Good.Must.Grow echoed this, finding that 30 percent of its respondents expected to increase their spending on goods and services from socially responsible companies over the next year.
So, if you plan to integrate social good into your business, don’t join a cause simply for the positive effects on your brand image and bottom line. Find an issue that is meaningful to you, relates to the overall mission and values of your brand and makes you, your employees and your customers feel good.
Ready to make a difference? Here are five tips for turning your business into an organization geared toward social good:
1. Start with a strategy.
Assess your brand‘s mission, values, products, services and stakeholders. How is what you’re already doing contributing to society? How can you take that one step further? Or: What needs fixing?
If your company offers software solutions, you may be well suited to bring STEM education to underserved students. If your company uses a lot of paper, help plant trees or support recycling and sustainability programs.
“Qualcomm’s expertise is mobile technology, and Qualcomm Wireless Reach is our strategic initiative that brings advanced wireless technology to underserved communities globally,” Michelle Martin, who manages PR and marketing at Qualcomm Wireless Reach, told me.
“By investing in projects that utilize wireless technology for social and economic development, we’re able to demonstrate the power of mobile to transform lives," said Martin. "It’s good for the world, but also helps our business grow.”
Whichever route you choose, develop a strategy that makes sense and is one you can stick with. Set long- and short-term goals for your initiatives and work toward them because you believe in the cause, not because you have to meet numbers.
2. Make friends.
If you’re not ready to develop your own cause-driven program from scratch, a good alternative is to develop partnerships with existing charities. Twillory, an online men’s clothing retailer, partnered with Career Gear -- a charity that helps men in need get back into and succeed in the workforce -- to develop a clothes-repurposing program.
When customers receive their Twillory packages, they get pre-paid mailer bags to send gently used professional clothing to Career Gear. In this partnership everyone wins: Twillory gives back to the community, Career Gear expands its resources and men in need receive additional support from volunteers.
“There are not nearly enough collaborations between charities in the nonprofit space,” said Marc Pollick, president and founder of The Giving Back Fund. “We need to check egos at the door and seek out creative ways to collaborate in a sector where there are never enough resources to cover need.”
3. Engage your employees.
What do IBM, Dell and PNC all have in common? Probably several things, but what's most important is that they offer paid time off for employees to volunteer. Commonly referred to as VTO, volunteer time off lets employees give back to their communities in an outlet of their choosing. From helping repaint schools to offering pro bono consulting, employee volunteers could be diversifying your company’s outreach, as well.
Nor do the benefits of VTO stop there. Cone Communications found that employees who were very involved in their company’s volunteer program were 36 percent more likely to feel a strong sense of company loyalty, and another 28 percent were more likely (than those who were uninvolved) to be proud of their company’s values.
Additionally, according to a UnitedHealth Group study, 81 percent of employees surveyed said that volunteering together strengthened relationships among their colleagues, and 87 percent of respondents agreed that volunteering developed teamwork and people skills,
4. Assume responsibility.
As you would for any other any other business agenda, track the progress of your initiatives to assess whether you’re meeting your goals. Instead of allowing your mission to fizzle out mid-year -- like a New Year’s resolution -- develop a method for seeing that your social good efforts are maintained. Sometimes, that means putting one person or team in charge of social programs, or being prepared to wear many hats.
“It used to be enough for companies to say they were doing good or donating proceeds to charity,” said Elliot Kotek, Co-founder of Not Impossible. “In the last couple of years, as transparency [has become] more highly valued, consumers have wanted to be shown the good being undertaken by their favorite brands.
"Now, we’re on the cusp of brands having to prove they’re doing good, or risk their authenticity being compromised.”
5. Take it slowly.
The most important thing to remember when integrating social good into your business is that it doesn’t happen overnight. In the early days of founding a company, ideas come fast and you’ll want to implement them all; but paths vary, plans pivot and your line from point A to point B may turn into something that more reflects an elaborate drawing of the Grand Canyon.
If you try to evolve too fast and get ahead of what your business is capable of supporting at the moment, you'll find it much more difficult to recover than had you let the organization grow at a more natural pace. So, be true to your business, know your strengths and weaknesses and be open to adaptation, especially if the partnership you intended didn’t work out, or your charity drive missed your fundraising mark by 50 percent.
In the end, any step you take toward helping solve a social problem or genuinely giving back to the community is itself a social good. So, take things slowly, act responsibly and do what is most meaningful to your brand, consumers and employees; in no time, you’ll see the difference.