Most business owners I meet think they need to wait until they have enough time or money before they ‘give back’. I used to think this too until I discovered that the opposite is true–that focusing on impact and partnering with causes can be a powerful way to grow your business and do good at the same time.
I experienced this first hand when my business started to grow on the back of the fundraising I was doing to raise funds for my humanitarian trips to Rwanda. Over the years I’ve also worked with clients who have also taken on more business as a direct consequence of strategically linking charitable projects to their business goals. I’ve also spoken to many other business owners who have experienced this too. Particularly those who do more than simply make philanthropic donations to causes.
Before I share some of the numerous research studies that conclude charitable giving is good for business, let’s first explore why it’s taking so long for micro and SME businesses to realise this.
Read on to find out more:
In my opinion, there are three key reasons:
1. The traditional role of business
One of the problems is that culturally most people see the role of businesses first and foremost is to make money and provide jobs. As though charities and social enterprises are the only types of organisation that do good. That may have been the case historically but things are changing.
Nowadays over 80% of consumers now expect businesses to do more than make a profit. Likewise, consumers, staff, clients, and investors are increasingly choosing to buy from, work for, partner with and invest in businesses who can demonstrate the good they are doing in the world–see below for further details.
Smart businesses, particularly those being set up by young innovative business owners and entrepreneurs are incorporating social impact and business giving strategies is the way to develop a meaningful brand, attract customers, staff, partners, and investors.
Examples of business for good brands include gAdventures, Airbnb, Patagonia, Toms Shoes and Kind Healthy Snacks. More locally in Scotland, we have Brewdog, Brewgooder, Social Bite and Choose Water.
That said, there is still a disconnect between customer expectations and perceptions in that when organisations do good, some can be skeptical as to their motives. I’ve also heard of people being critical of causes that partner with businesses, as though they are getting into bed with the enemy.
If business is really to be seen as a force for good, we all have a part to play in changing attitudes. As business owners and leaders, we can all take action to start making that change happen with a congruent message across all areas of a business.
2. The desire to ‘give back’ is hindering charitable giving
Stop ‘giving back’. To me, there is something better we can do instead.
I hate the term to ‘give back’. Why? Because I feel it’s often used in a way that is hampering rather than helping charitable giving.
The literal meaning of the phrase to ‘give back’ is to give something back that doesn’t belong to you.
Obviously as individuals, businesses, or countries if we have things that don’t belong to us then, of course, the right thing to do is to give them back. But nowadays ‘to give back’ is also commonly used to express our desire to contribute or make a difference in the world.
The main challenge I see with this is that it often implies we need to wait until we have the time or money BEFORE we give back–whether this is personally or through our work.
In the context of business, ‘giving back’ nurtures the belief that we need to be generating enough money or profits before we support causes.
The result is that many business owners, entrepreneurs, and SME leaders, who want to support causes don’t. Because they are waiting until they have the time or money to it.
Yet supporting charities and social causes is a powerful way to GROW and profitable business and do good at the same time as – no matter what stage of business you’re at. You don’t need to wait.
There are many ways to support and partner with causes depending on the needs, resources, and focus of your business.
For example, incorporating fundraising into your marketing (known as cause marketing), sourcing social suppliers, volunteering your time or donating excess stock. Or you could introduce environmental policies in your business that are similar to those you apply personally e.g. using re-cycled paper.
So rather than waiting to ‘giving back’ how about GIVING NOW instead?
3. The unfortunate legacy of CSR
For business owners who previously worked in companies or organisations where CSR sat on the peripheral of the business, and seemed more like an afterthought or tick box exercise, our experiences have helped shape the belief that charitable giving doesn’t add value to a business. Unfortunately, if we believe this to be true, we’re more likely to set up businesses that focus on generating income as a means to success rather than realising we could generate income through focussing on impact.
In response to changing consumer trends and advances in technology, there is an increasing number of companies being set up that put social impact and solving social problems at the heart of growing their business.
Many larger established companies are realising their future depends upon the impact they have on people, communities and the planet and that they need to better embrace social impact and business giving strategies. However, their efforts can be hampered by an incongruence of policy across operations and the time it takes consumers to change their perception of a well-known brand.
Thankfully for small to medium-sized businesses, it’s much easier and quicker to incorporate social impact and giving strategies into your business and to re-position yourself as a business for good brand–no matter what stage of business you’re at.
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