Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is about businesses acting as citizens, behaving responsibly towards their employees, society and the environment.
CSR is often seen as something that big corporations do. But CSR is often integral to the behaviours of small and medium-sized businesses, even if it's not explicitly called out. CSR takes many forms, but could include policies around the following:
Above all, CSR policies advocate businesses acting sustainably — in the broadest sense of the word. This has inherent business benefits, in particular for SMEs. Ensuring costs, growth and other aspects of the business are sustainable is key to success.
CSR shouldn't be considered a costly activity. While implementing CSR policies may have cost implications, in order to be sustainable there should be a clear return on investment (ROI) identified before the policies are put in place. ROI shouldn't be considered a dirty word in this context. Your business can benefit in a number of ways from acting responsibly — not all of which will have an easily identifiable monetary value.
Getting involved with charities, community projects or environmental campaigns can get your business positive press across a wide range of channels.
Working outside your industry can provide you access to new networks, which allows you to get your brand in front of a whole new audience. These opportunities can take a number of different forms:
There should be no shame in working the room (physical or virtual) when these opportunities arise, as long as you're not detracting from the cause you're supporting.
Personality can be a key differentiator when attracting new clients, customer and staff. However, it can be difficult to set your business apart in a meaningful way. The choices you make in your CSR efforts can be an effective way of doing this. Promoting your values appropriately can set you apart from your competitors.
This can be particularly useful for smaller businesses, where the values of the business are intrinsically linked with the values of the owner. Implementing CSR policies provides a means of making these values explicit and tying them more closely to the business. Alternatively they provide an opportunity to separate the values of the owner from those of the business.
The potential impact on recruitment shouldn't be underestimated. The Millennial Impact Report 2014 found that a company's involvement with causes was the 3rd biggest factor for the Millennial Generation when applying for a job.
Giving your employees the chance to do something worthwhile can provide a sense of wellbeing and improve the mood of the workplace.
Volunteering or support for local charities can help employees to feel that they're giving back to the community and can give employees an opportunity to interact with each other in different ways, away from the office.
Supporting causes also gives your workforce a chance to get creative and use different skills that aren’t utilised in their everyday work. This can be beneficial to your business, bringing in fresh ideas and new ways of working.
Getting ROI in the form of boosted staff morale can be tricky — it's important that the causes your business supports align with your employees values in order to get the most impact.
It's also important that any contribution they're making outside of working hours is voluntary and seen as such.
Much of Urban Element’s business comes from businesses in the local area, so we’ve made a decision to focus our external CSR efforts on supporting local charities.
Base 33 is a youth charity based in Witney. It supports disadvantaged young people with a range of issues, including family breakdown, homelessness and substance misuse.
We’ve given Base 33 a wide range of support, from business consultancy and goal setting to brand development and a whole new website that was designed, written and developed by the team.
See more at www.base33.org.uk
We’ve learnt a great deal from working with Base 33. The challenges that the charity sector have faced through the financial crisis have been significant and their techniques to overcoming these can be applied to many small businesses during times of need. We’ve also learnt a lot about the fantastic work that they do. It’s been a real eye-opener to see the difficulties that young people on our doorstep are facing and great to know that we’ve been able to make a difference.
This relationship has given staff the chance to work in different ways and exercise new skills that don’t normally form part of our offering. The team have also had the opportunity to attend events that Base 33 have hosted to see first hand what their efforts have helped to support.
We’ll continue to support Base 33 with ongoing digital marketing and design work, but more important is the personal connection the team has made with the charity. They’ve continued to attend events and we’re looking at introducing mentoring and even apprenticeships for the young people that Base 33 work with.
SpecialEffect is charity that uses technology to help disabled people overcome their physical challenges and play video games or use leisure technology.
They use a range of technologies, from eye-gaze systems that let their users control computers (and play games) with just their eye movements, to modified keyboards and controllers. Each solution is unique, taking into account the abilities of the individual they’re working with.
We’ve been involved with SpecialEffect since 2010 and developed their website. But our involvement goes much deeper than that.
In 2014 the TwinTown Challenge was set up by Brendan Cross at STL Communications. Twin Town is a car rally between Witney and its twin town in France, Le Touquet.
Teams are tasked with buying a car for £500 that will then compete in a number of challenges before driving in convoy to Le Touquet and back via the Brands Hatch, Le Mans and Croix en Ternois race courses. Teams fundraise along the way, with all money going to SpecialEffect.
This was right up our street – matching the interests of the team, supporting a charity we were already involved in and providing plenty of opportunities to challenge ourselves and meet new people.
We entered a team to take part, as well as sponsoring the event and building the website.
The event was a great success, raising a fantastic £30,000 for SpecialEffect.
That wasn’t the end of our involvement with SpecialEffect or TwinTown. The Twin Town Challenge is back for 2016, and we’re taking part yet again – as sponsors, providing a website, supporting their digital marketing and also taking part.
Our team, Uber Element, will be driving a 1996 black cab pimped out with interior light show, sound system and onboard WiFi and charging station so it can act as a social media hub.
I hope that you’ve been inspired to look at how you can implement CSR policies in your business. If you’d like to support our Twin Town 16 fundraising, you can find our more on our BT MyDonate page.
If you’re interested in taking part or sponsoring the event, you can find out more at www.twintown16.co.uk.
Ahead of the main challenge, we’ll be taking the taxi on tour to Oxfordshire business parks and networking groups. We’ll be offering website SEO reviews in return for a donation to the charity.
As one of the Directors and Co-Owner, Natasha is jointly responsible for the successful leadership and management of Urban Element. Natasha is also instrumental in developing a vision and strategic plan to guide the business and delivering this to the team. As joint owners Jon and Natasha split the Director roles, with Natasha responsible for HR and Operations in particular. As HR Director, Natasha manages Urban Element's most valuable asset: its people. In this role, Natasha is responsible for recruitment, selection, on-boarding, induction and training & development. As Operations Director, Natasha takes accountability for and oversees the day to day running of the office and is Urban Element's most fervent ambassador of process and standardization.