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How Your Small Business Can Benefit From a Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy

Dr. Brittany McDonald
Dr. Brittany McDonald

Learn three effective ways small to medium-sized businesses can implement and benefit from corporate social responsibility.

As the workforce becomes increasingly competitive, companies that want to attract and retain top talent must invest in valuable strategies that appeal to prospective employees. To retain these employees, companies must provide an environment where employees are fully engaged in the work that they do. A proven strategy to increase the engagement of employees is through the practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Unfortunately, corporate social responsibility is often misconceived as an expensive practice, only to be invested in by large corporations. However, small to medium-sized businesses can also benefit from integrating CSR into their strategic plan.  

Before diving into the ways small businesses can benefit from CSR strategy, let's address what it is. Corporate social responsibility, or its acronym CSR, refers to business practices that benefit employees, stakeholders, society and the environment. Therefore, initiatives backed by CSR contribute to a business's environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, which ultimately benefits all stakeholders involved. Typical ways in which organizations practice CSR include philanthropy, corporate volunteerism and green initiatives. 

Practicing CSR is important in business because, outside of increasing profits, businesses are expected to operate in a socially responsible manner, minimizing their impact on the global environment, while increasing their positive impact on society. This is especially true for the local communities they serve. In addition, businesses are expected to provide their employees with work-life balance and a better quality of life. After all, an organization's human capital is their most valuable asset.  With that being said, it would be shortsighted to think that these practices should only be a focus for large organizations. Small businesses, while smaller in size, would benefit greatly by focusing on their human capital and their level of engagement in addition to their customer experience and satisfaction.  

To tackle both employee and customer engagement, businesses should incorporate CSR into their strategy. This not only helps increase employee engagement through a sense of belonging and shared values, but it also begins a chain reaction that ultimately leads to increased profit. Engaged employees are more likely to be promoters of the business and better convey the company's value to customers. This has been proven with companies that incorporate NPS (Net Promoter Score) as a means to gauge their customer satisfaction. To top it off, customers are more likely to patronize businesses that are socially responsible. 

Despite the common idea that CSR is too expensive a feat for small businesses, or that the only organizations that can designate millions of dollars to philanthropy can benefit from CSR, there are many ways that smaller companies can incorporate CSR practices and benefit. The following are three ways small businesses can incorporate CSR into their strategy and engage their workforce along the way. 


The first way to incorporate CSR into your business is to offer employees the opportunity to paid time away from work to volunteer at local nonprofit organizations. Time away from work to volunteer shows employees that they are valued as well as showing commitment to positively impacting the community. Ways in which you can incorporate volunteerism in your company follow: 

  • Volunteer with local nonprofit organizations. Your company can partner with local nonprofit organizations that align with your company values to provide skills-based volunteerism.  Skills-based volunteerism affords employees the opportunity to utilize their skill set, as well as develop professional and leadership skills, all while providing much-needed help in the community.

  • Business resource group or committee. One way to maximize your volunteer impact is to create an employee business resource group or a committee that is dedicated to gathering like-minded employees who wish to give back to the community through volunteering their time and skills. Employee business resource groups are led by employees and help foster an inclusive workplace that aligns with your company's values.

  • Designate paid time off. Allowing employees the opportunity to volunteer at local nonprofit organizations during normal work hours is a great first step.  However, employees should not have to use their paid time off (PTO) or forfeit pay to do so.  Depending on the size of your company and budget, you could allow from 8 to 40 hours of paid time for volunteerism. This time off is referred to as volunteer time off, not to be confused with voluntary time off. 

Volunteerism allows employees to feel like they are actively involved in the business's CSR strategy which satisfies the basic need for group membership and provides the opportunity to work on a collective goal with like-minded individuals who share similar values. In addition, volunteerism provides the opportunity for employees to use what they know to positively impact the community, as well as learn new skill sets outside of their job role. 

Community engagement

 The second way that small businesses can practice CSR is through community engagement.  This can be accomplished by developing partnerships with local community leaders and nonprofit organizations.  This helps build rapport with the community and ultimately creates a pipeline for customers.

  • Community outreach. One way to impact your community is through community outreach. Community outreach involves reaching out to local community members and leaders to create a relationship and become more involved. This not only puts your company in the position to positively impact the community it serves, but it also boosts your company's image and helps attract new customers at the same time.

  • Direct service. Your company can make a significant impact on the community it serves by looking for specific needs that your company can help meet. This could include donating supplies or helping fund an initiative that benefits the community.

  • Fundraisers/Sponsorship. Working with schools for fundraisers or providing fundraising opportunities for local nonprofit organizations is a great way to engage the community.  An example would be donating a small percentage of sales for one night to a fundraising effort to a local organization. 

Through fostering relationships with local community leaders, the business can get community buy-in for any future business ventures, while partnering with local nonprofit organizations provides businesses the opportunity to give back to the community they serve either through volunteerism or providing discounted services for 501c3s.  Both of these strategies help build the customer base, which can ultimately lead to increased profit. 

Reduce negative environmental impact

 A third way for small companies to implement CSR into their business strategy is to work toward reducing any negative environmental impact. By reducing their negative impact, the business is not only helping the environment and operating in a socially responsible manner, but the business will also attract environmentally conscious employees and customers. 

There are many ways to "green" your business and become more environmentally friendly.  A few simple ways to reduce any negative environmental impact include the following:

  • Green procurement. Using products that are sustainably sourced. This includes purchasing environmentally friendly products and services, and choosing to work with other companies who operate in the same manner.

  • Work with LEED contractors. LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design. For any construction or demolition, your company can work exclusively with contractors and businesses that are LEED certified. The benefits of working with a LEED contractor include reduced energy and water usage, improved air quality, and lower operating costs among other things.

  • Reduce waste. Your company can reduce waste by limiting water and electricity usage, and the easiest way, recycling. Another way to reduce waste is to reduce packaging and go paperless where feasible.

Despite the misconception that corporate social responsibility is not beneficial to small and medium-sized businesses, there are many ways small companies can incorporate CSR practices that will positively benefit their business and help engage their employees.  From offering employees time off for volunteerism and building relationships through community engagement to working to reduce negative environmental impact, small and medium-size businesses can take simple, yet impactful steps to practice corporate social responsibility.

Image Credit: scyther5 / Getty Images
Dr. Brittany McDonald
Dr. Brittany McDonald Member
Dr. Brittany McDonald is a client and employee experience professional from Pittsburgh with expertise in employee engagement and a passion for volunteerism, stewardship, and CSR. In addition to a PhD in Community Engagement, Brittany also received an MBA in International Business from Point Park University and a Bachelors of Science in Natural Sciences from the University of Pittsburgh. Her research focused on the impact of Corporate Social Responsibility on Millennial employee engagement. As a Net Impact Tech for Good Fellow she created a mobile app to simplify charitable giving to Pittsburgh non-profit organizations, and founded the Net Impact graduate chapter for Point Park University. Brittany also serves as the Vice President of the Board of Directors of La Escuelita Arcoiris, a Spanish immersion early learning organization, and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Carnegie of Homestead, a historic library, music hall, and athletic club.