These days, there’s more to business than products and profits. What your company stands for, and your willingness to help your communities, speaks volumes to the employees you hire and the customers you serve.
Like many of you, I truly wanted to make a difference when I became a business owner. As the person who leads the direction of my company, I believe in using my position as a CEO to give back. Our philanthropic work is important not just for the people we help, but also for our employees. After all, most spend more waking hours at their jobs than they do with their families.
Companies have the ability to have 360-degree impacts on people’s lives — not only financially, but also emotionally, intellectually, and even spiritually. It’s a big responsibility, but by focusing on more than merely money, employers can create a work environment that makes their workers feel like they’re making a difference.
Hurdles in developing a plan to give back
Whether you’re motivated by faith like me or by a want to positively impact the world around us, it’s important to clearly define the company’s values at the start of any corporate social responsibility initiative. Without those in place, you’ll be building on a porous foundation of muddled ideas and setting your efforts up to sink.
Another challenge is ensuring that the foundation holds firm, because stresses will test it. Even businesses without investors have people who are invested in it, and not everyone will support loftier goals when there’s money to be made.
Balancing profit and philanthropy can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. By following a few guiding principles, you can create a company that you and your employees can be proud of:
- Have a clear vision.
“Doing good” is a very broad goal. A business can positively impact the world in plenty of ways, but it’s impossible to tackle every problem. Every mission needs a clear, defined goal. This goal needs to be simple enough to explain, easy enough to mobilize, and powerful enough for customers and employees to get behind.
Examples abound. Patagonia’s “Don’t Buy This Jacket” campaign aimed to actually cut down on consumerism and have customers carefully consider the effects of their global footprints; Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair” works to provide glasses and vision care to the approximately 2.5 billion people worldwide who need it; and our own “Honey Gives Hope” initiative supports a variety of philanthropic efforts, including investing in bee health and assisting vulnerable communities in our area and across the nation.
Nailing down your company’s precise mission can be a lengthy exercise, but it makes things easier in the long run. Businesses tackling philanthropic projects need to maintain the balance between CSR and generating the profits necessary to keep the doors open and enable giving. If the vision for the philanthropy is vague, it’s easy for the profit side to creep in and diminish the mission.
- Enlist passionate leaders.
To communicate a mission clearly, you need the right leaders — the kind who believe in the cause and get everyone in the company to buy into the values. They’re fully committed and believe in the company’s vision themselves.
Perhaps most importantly, effective leadership can communicate goals and action items clearly and comprehensively. Having champions across departments and from the C-suite to entry level who believe in the organization’s philanthropic goals and who lead by example is instrumental in achieving corporate social responsibility.
- Tap into the 3 T’s.
Your company has three T’s to offer: time, talent, and treasure.
Think about how your employees’ talents and skills can be used to impact others in a positive way. If you have a team of nature enthusiasts, you can explore Adopt-a-Spot programs or park beautification initiatives. Animal lovers might prefer doing some work with the Humane Society or other such organizations. Of course, giving your employees the time to make a difference is key.
You can also consider ways to give away your treasure: TOMS gives a pair of shoes away for each one it sells, and other companies donate percentages of their sales to certain causes. The possibilities are virtually endless.
- Resolve to work with others.
Your company doesn’t need to be a disruptor or trailblazer to become socially responsible; it could simply partner with any number of well-established nonprofits. For instance, my mom is a breast cancer survivor, and joining in the fight against breast cancer has become a critical part of our company’s mission. We partner with the National Breast Cancer Foundation in initiatives such as patient navigation, which helps those suffering with cancer through the stressful process of finding care and treating the disease.
This type of partnership is a win-win. The nonprofit gets a boost from the support of the company, and in return the company can raise brand awareness, retain great employees who can see that their efforts touch lives, and even build customer advocacy.
The success of a business extends beyond its balance sheet. When you build a company that gives back, your employees will want to go to work, customers will feel good about buying your product, and you might just make the world a better place.
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