Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is, in my view, more important now than ever. Before Covid-19, people were already looking for a different approach, wanting a world where business is more than just about making money. Consumers want transparency; they want specifics about fair trade; good working conditions; environmental responsibility; and more.
It’s true that some people don’t care. However, a growing majority do. Whether they are buying as a business or as individuals, they’re looking for companies that are about more than just profits. They want to buy responsibly. They don’t want to be fobbed off with greenwash; they want to know what you are doing as a business, and what that means. In many cases, they are willing to pay slightly more for it.
What activities count as CSR?
CSR can be delivered in many different ways. For example, financial donations, resource donations, offering pro-bono work for charities, co-marketing to promote a charitable cause, and having specific, publicly announced ethics, for example, carbon zero, LGBTQ-friendly, vegan, no investment in weapons. Some of these practices will of course fall outside the treasurer’s remit, but they may spark ideas which you can adopt and can be useful to suggest to the board.
Let’s look at some examples:
Donating in line with your brand
There are many organisations that donate something allied to their brand. This can give a fun and/or memorable message for the organisation. For example, Who Gives A Crap’s tagline “toilet paper that builds toilets” tells you what their business is and what their charitable contribution is! They donate a generous 50% of their profits to help build toilets in countries where access to sanitation is limited.
Green Tomato Cars provides an eco-friendly car service in London. They aim to do their bit towards improving air quality and were the first operators in London to use Toyota’s Prius. They offset their unavoidable emissions by supporting The Ugandan Improved Cookstoves project. This subsidises the sale of charcoal cookstoves and fuel-efficient biomass across Uganda, which improves cooking conditions and reduces indoor air pollution.
Give a financial donation for every transaction
A straightforward and easy way to practise CSR is to donate a percentage or a given sum to a charity or organisation with every transaction. For example, at Bidwedge, we are all mad about cats, so we partnered with Born Free. When changing your unwanted foreign currency back into sterling, you can opt to donate the full amount to Born Free (via the Bidwedge platform) and we’ll donate 100% of our handling fee, or if you’d prefer to keep the cash yourself, we’ll still donate 50% of our handling fee. All the money donated goes directly to support Born Free’s big cat sanctuaries at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa: https://www.bornfree.org.uk/shamwari-big-cat-rescue-sanctuary.
Google is well known for its corporate philanthropy, and among its many schemes is a matching gift programme where donations between $50 and $12,000 made by employees are matched by the firm at a 1:1 ratio. Another example is UK insurance broker Club Insure. It announced this year that it aims to raise £75,000 for Prostate Cancer UK by donating £5 for every new or renewed insurance policy.
Donating product like-for-like
Rather than buy-one-get-one-free, you can give-one-away-for-every-one-bought. This worked for Dashel, which gave away one of their stylish recycled cycle helmets to an NHS keyworker for each one bought online during lockdown. This initiative gave a real benefit to NHS workers choosing to cycle, rather than risk public transport, and Dashel showed themselves to be a truly ethical company. In turn, they found their helmets in demand.
Stand4 Socks also donates one product for each sold. They recognised that the most requested items from homeless shelters are pairs of socks. As a result, they designed suitable socks for homeless people and donate a pair with every sale.
Among the larger corporations who donate their products is TOMS, based in Los Angeles, whose mission is to donate a pair of shoes for very pair they sell. The company has already given over 60 million pairs of shoes to children in need as well as using some of their profits to provide prescription glasses, which they also produce, to assist the visually impaired.
For smaller businesses with limited resources, volunteering is an excellent way to contribute. Many of the big organisations offer paid Corporate Volunteering Days to staff. This may be harder for small businesses, but even a couple of half-days might make a difference and boost morale. It could be very local volunteering, such as helping to run a bazaar for a local community organisation.
Thames Tideway, which was established to protect the tidal River Thames from pollution, is very keen on volunteering. The treasury team goes litter-picking along the river bank, together with other departments, as a team-building exercise, which their treasurer says is “more fun than it sounds!”
You may have services that you can provide to a smaller charity. Reach Volunteering is a platform connecting businesses with skills they want to offer with organisations looking for help: https://reachvolunteering.org.uk/
Here are some tips to help get you started:
- Choose something that resonates with you and/or your business because the effort will be difficult to sustain if your heart’s not really in it.
- Consider allowing bigger teams to choose what they want to do to contribute. You’ll get better buy-in and they get even more enjoyment.
- You can start small. Once you’ve got going it’ll be easier to expand your contribution.
- Announce it on your social media and website, on your packaging. Let everyone know what you are doing!
CSR encompasses a range of activities and opportunities to contribute. I hope this quick review will inspire you and your company to jump in and take action.
Shon Alam is the Founder of Bidwedge, which changes unused foreign currency, even small amounts, back into sterling.