‘Small Businesses and CSR’ blog for CBI

Tom’s first contribution to the CBI Great Business Debate blog can be found here.

Here is the text:

Should smaller companies do more to engage with communities?

Abstract: Small businesses benefit from community engagement as much as the big companies, says Tom Levitt.

Big businesses engage with communities because their employees like it and engaged employees are better workers; they do it because it helps their reputation and brand and because it can prompt innovation and mutually advantageous partnership working. Exactly the same reasons apply to smaller businesses – if they did but know it.

SMEs, which are 99 per cent of the business world, tend not to ‘do CSR’ although they may donate to good causes or respond positively to calls for help. Most believe they should do that. They don’t have the volunteering flexibility that the bigger players have, but otherwise the arguments apply equally to minnows as giants.

What most SMEs don’t do is place community engagement firmly into their business strategy. This is a pity: it means that business skills, surplus resources and time are not made available to community organisations which might need them and those business benefits are being lost. A young employee with accountancy, graphics, construction or business planning skills might not only help a charity create capacity but hone their own talents too – thereby enhancing the company’s own skill-set.

Think about it: what does a small business have that’s surplus to their requirements? Goods, space, services, even waste – plus time, energy and skills. Why not make some available to the community?

Finding who needs what is a problem: and if your only experience of charities is the ‘give’ message, which is some way short of a business relationship, how do you know your spare but valuable resource will be put to good use?

Near Manchester I met a steel stockholder who’d inherited the business from her father. She was up to here with the demands of commerce and not inclined to say yes to those begging at her door. But when a nursery asked if she had anything that could replace a broken fence she found some material that was not on any inventory; two of her half dozen employees volunteered to erect the fence in their spare time and the next day asked: ‘What can we do next?’

‘That weekend’, she said, ‘changed my company. It made us a better place to work, more in tune with the community around us’. And she hasn’t looked back! Your business can get the same buzz by putting citizenship into your business strategy.

Tom Levitt, author of Welcome to GoodCo, tweets as @sector4focus