How corporate social responsibility can work for small businesses

Tina Boden discusses the value of 'giving something back' as a small business owner.

Many of you that have worked, or may still be working, in large organisations in both the public and private sector will be aware of the term corporate social responsibility or CSR. Each company looks at their corporate social responsibility differently but the main focus is to ensure a positive contribution is made to both the environment and community around the location where a company or organisation operates.

Corporate social responsibility can range from waste and pollution reduction to employees volunteering hours in a local charity, school or community centre. Many large businesses and organisations expect their employees to take part in making a difference to the community where they live or work and they are allowed hours out to do this. In some cases companies will match any fundraising venture an employee undertakes and will also offer funding for community projects.

It is not just the corporate and large organisations that consider their responsibility to the area where they run their business though; micro-business owners are probably the biggest donators of time and resources that I know. If you consider many micro-business owners only have a couple of staff to help them in their business, if any at all, running their business is time-consuming enough without then helping with community and charity projects as well. But micro-business owners will have a clearer understanding of factors affecting the area in which they trade because they are hands on in that business every day and when they are not in the business running it they are away from it considering issues that may be affecting trading conditions.

When Lucille Ball made her famous quote ‘If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do’ she obviously had the micro-business owner in mind. They are already a ‘Jack of all trades’ in their business, are used to multitasking to ensure their business is running as it should be and they understand the need to deliver a quality product or service to their client because if they do not there will be no business to run; micro-business owners are the perfect type of person to get involved with supporting charities, community projects and social enterprises and they very often do.

As a micro-business owner that wants to give something back it is very important that you do not over-stretch yourself, the resources of your business or the donations that you give to a point where it has a detrimental effect on both you and your business. Over the years I have found myself involved with more voluntary work than paid work at times because I could not say no but I have learnt. I do still give around 25 per cent of my time to voluntary work but I have some clear guidelines to follow that help me choose the voluntary work I do and ensure it does not have a negative effect on the businesses I run. You may find these guidelines useful to help focus yourself when being asked to donate or volunteer for a good cause.

· Choose no more than three charities, social enterprises or community projects each year that you are going to support. You might base your choice on personal experience, something that you have a strong belief in or feedback you have received from others about a project that is doing great work. If you are approached by other charities asking for donations or support it is much easier to say no if you have this policy in place, when you explain why you cannot contribute people are far more understanding.

· Set yourself a limit of financial contributions you are going to make to your chosen charities. This includes any products or vouchers you may offer as prizes to the charity. Ensure you do not go over this limit and make it clear to the charities that you are involved with that you will not continually give financial contributions or goods but can donate time and skills instead which are just as valuable.

· If you want to donate your time and skills to a good cause, set yourself a percentage of time and stick to it. Make it very clear to the organisation you are volunteering for how much time you will give. If you are doing the work remotely set a specific time during the week that you will do the voluntary work so you are able to measure the time you have given and not find yourself doing far more than you can physically afford to.

With so many micro-business owners giving their time to voluntary work we need to look at introducing a phrase that gives them recognition. Whilst the term corporate social responsibility has become a phrase that many are used to hearing it is not something that can be used for those employing between zero and nine.

I would like to see a new term in the global vocabulary that differentiates the support given to communities by corporate organisations from that given by micro-business owners and for me that new term should be ‘micro-business community contributor’. As the number of micro-businesses in the UK grows to 4.55 million there will be a large percentage of those business owners who volunteer their time to good causes and they deserve to have recognition for that.

Further reading on corporate social responsibility

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