Think Like a Nonprofit. CSR will help your business grow

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) isn’t just for big businesses and nonprofits. Small businesses need to be value-driven and give back to the community too. Here’s why. 

Owning and running a business requires a daily schedule filled with tough calls: Who is better qualified for the role? Who gets promoted? And sometimes, unfortunately, who must we lay-off? Rarely do the answers to these and many other questions come easily. And so, in order to create a sense of fairness, we look at stats, numbers and operational goals to objectively reach a suitable conclusion in order to create processes and manifest company culture.

Creating a fair and objective work environment is both commendable and necessary. Data points and margins are essential to growth and security. But, we must never lose sight of the fact that all business is entirely personal. Simply think back on what made you want to start your company or enter your field, and you’ll more than likely discover motivation beyond economic exchange.

Furthermore, we know that brand recognition and loyalty are a direct result of having created a personalized, trustworthy relationship between your business and the customer. People are converted to quality goods coupled with quality experiences. Those quality experiences come through interaction with satisfied employees. High rates of employee retention and productivity directly correlate to an employee’s sense of value and community within the company. This is especially true for Millennials – those born between 1982 and 2004 – who, according to a January 2018 Forbes article, “want their workplaces and the people there to function as a second family. They want that company to have easily graspable and pro-social sets of values. They want opportunities to broaden their usefulness to your company, and they want you to help them give back to the community.”

None of this may come as new information. Solid interpersonal relationships and strong customer care are foundational to a successful business model. But in the fast-paced, tech-dependent, on-demand world in which we live, how do we foster and reinforce these “old school” fundamentals?

Embrace Empathy to Make Change

When people talk about a company’s culture, they often are describing codes of behavior, the climate for innovation and idea exchange, and how success is defined and measured. More and more, and perhaps due to Millennial influence, a company’s culture reflects its position as a player within the broader community in which it operates. Just like a nonprofit organization, a values-based and driven company culture helps develop your business’s reputation as a community ally. Partnerships and networks are more readily forged and your service base (customers and employees) regard your company as inclusive and growth-oriented.

The motivation behind all the values a company embraces ought to stem from a place of empathy. In a 2015 Fast Company article penned by Jeff Booth, CEO and cofounder of BuildDirect, he makes the case that empathy is necessary to getting a business model up and running from a theoretical dream to a practical reality. Empathy, more than a good virtue or character trait, is “[t]ruly acknowledging and addressing someone else’s pains and frustrations […]. It requires serious investment and a long runway.” In other words, by recognizing that your customer, employee, or stake holder has serious concerns or valid needs currently unfulfilled, you have the opportunity to address those needs in positive ways. But your business can only do that by taking the time to really understand what those needs actually are, and not what you may assume them to be. Empathy requires patience and time. It’s taking small, steady steps towards achievement and improvement.

A recent example of relying upon empathy to meet a need is in Starbucks Coffee CEO Kevin Johnson’s decision to close 8,000 company-owned US Starbucks location on May 29 for racial sensitivity training. Though this is only one step of hopefully several to come – and admittedly met with some debate and criticism – Johnson’s swift decision to take responsibility for the company culture is an empathetic act. Instead of merely addressing the one Philadelphia location in which the controversy originated, Johnson is taking the opportunity to address employee and consumer concerns nationwide. This course empathetically invests in the company’s culture while simultaneously, and more importantly, provides feedback regarding the customer frustrations and emotions he and all Starbucks employees serve.

Actions Forge Stronger than Words

An increasingly popular phrase indicating the business industry’s recognition of its social impact is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The Investopedia entry for CSR defines the term as “a corporation’s initiatives to assess and take responsibility for the company’s effects on environmental and social wellbeing.” CSR can take many forms, including designated “give-back” days where employees are given leave to act as volunteers, to reducing the company’s carbon footprint, to sponsoring a charitable event or campaign. Regardless of how you choose to engage with the community, the benefits of CSR are well documented. A 2017 Drexel University study shows that employees who collaborate outside of work-related projects complete work projects more effectively and efficiently, display greater empathy towards others throughout the work day, and increase customer service satisfaction. In addition to the the study’s findings, as your business partners with community organizations that align with consumers’ passions, your customers are more likely to trust your brand because meaningful in-person, face-to-face interactions are forged over a common goal.

It Takes a Village

They say it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to help a business establish solid roots. Your business can embrace empathy and empathetic action as a component for effective industry disruption and innovation. By applying the nonprofit approach of community partnership and investment as one critical measurement of success, your business will achieve longevity in the 21st century.

Laura Saggese is a former marketing executive who, in 2017, founded Wrap for a Cause – a nonprofit organization increasing business and charity brand recognition by partnering them to strengthen communities and expand market reach. Visit for more information.

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