CSR for Small Businesses: How to Engage Your Employees

Engage small business employees with corporate social responsibility.

If you own a small business, you’ve probably heard of the concept of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Focusing on CSR not only drives positive social change, but it also boosts your reputation as a company that holds itself to high ethical standards and cares about the community it operates in.

Now, you might be thinking, isn’t corporate social responsibility just for large corporations? How could my business possibly create lasting change in the community when we’re a small operation?

The reality of CSR is that it’s accessible for all for-profit organizations, regardless of size! However, for your small business to make a real difference through CSR, you’ll need to get your entire team on board and invest time into making your program great.

In this guide, we’ll share three top tips to boost employee engagement in your company’s CSR initiatives. But first, let’s dive deeper into what CSR is and how it can benefit small businesses like yours.

What Is Corporate Social Responsibility?

Double the Donation’s guide to corporate social responsibility defines the term as “a company’s efforts to improve society in some way.” Because of this broad definition, it’s difficult to legally mandate that companies practice social responsibility. Instead, CSR describes the extra efforts that companies make to improve their local and global communities.

Corporate social responsibility is often associated with two similar terms: corporate giving and corporate philanthropy. However, both of these terms have narrower definitions than CSR. Corporate giving refers to the monetary and in-kind contributions that businesses make to charitable causes. Corporate philanthropy describes the various activities that take place when a for-profit business partners with a nonprofit organization—both corporate giving and other forms of support like corporate volunteerism.

Although corporate philanthropy is a way that companies can be socially responsible, CSR encompasses a broader range of activities than either corporate giving or corporate philanthropy. In addition to giving and volunteerism, CSR can refer to the integration of ethical production methods, fair labor practices, environmental sustainability, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and other forms of community engagement into a business’s practices.

Benefits of CSR for Small Businesses

No matter what type of small business you own—from bookstores to dance studios—you can find a CSR niche that aligns with your industry. For instance, a bookstore could focus on increasing literacy rates, while a dance studio might get involved in the community’s arts and culture activities.

Once you find your niche and launch CSR initiatives at your business, you can experience benefits such as:

  • Stronger community partnerships. CSR programs often involve partnering with nonprofits or other companies, which can lead to long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationships between these organizations and your business.
  • Improved company reputation. Showing that your business is socially responsible can make customers more inclined to purchase your products or services over others, since they’ll view engaging with your company as a more ethical choice.
  • Positive workplace culture. Employees often want to work for companies that share their values. CSR initiatives show that this is the case at your business, leading to a more satisfied team.
  • Increased employee retention rates. In a similar vein, your employees are more likely to stay at your business long-term if they can tell that you care about helping the community.

While any socially responsible business can experience all four of these benefits, the last two will only come if your employees are engaged in your CSR initiatives. After all, your team needs to be aware of your efforts for them to make a difference in your culture and retention rates!

3 Tips to Engage Employees in CSR

Effective CSR is a team effort, especially for small businesses. Now that you know why CSR is important for your company, here are three tips to get your employees involved in your initiatives.

1. Choose the Right CSR Programs for Your Business

Because corporate social responsibility is a broad term, there are many types of programs your business could choose to launch. Some of the most popular initiatives include:

  • Workplace giving programs. These initiatives encompass a variety of ways in which businesses make direct financial contributions to charitable causes, such as matching gifts, internal employee fundraising, and volunteer grant programs.
  • Corporate volunteerism. Volunteer grants bridge the gap between corporate giving and volunteerism, which refers to methods companies use to encourage employees to volunteer. These can also include providing paid time off specifically for volunteering or organizing volunteer events during the workday.
  • Sponsorships. A nonprofit corporate sponsorship is a mutually beneficial agreement for your business to provide financial support, in-kind donations, or co-marketing opportunities to a nonprofit. The benefit to your company is that the nonprofit will provide you with free publicity. For instance, they might include your logo on their fundraising event signage or post a shoutout to you on their social media profiles.
  • Leading by example. Your business can also be socially responsible by choosing an area in which to be a trailblazer in your industry. For instance, you might decide to become a leader in environmental sustainability by incorporating recycled materials into production and restructuring your supply chain to reduce carbon emissions. Or, you could go above and beyond in fair labor practices by providing generous paid time off and establishing a best-in-class system of governance.

Choosing the right CSR program involves assessing two main factors: your business’s strengths and your employees’ interests and priorities. For example, if you hosted a one-off volunteer event that had a high staff participation rate, you could lean into that success and launch more corporate volunteerism efforts. Or, if your team already incorporates recycling into their daily activities, you could make a stronger, more public commitment to environmental leadership.

2. Recognize Employees Who Participate in CSR

Once you launch a CSR program, the key to getting as many employees involved as possible is to recognize those who participate. With team members’ permission, you could include the names and photos of your top participants in your newsletter or post about their involvement on your business’s social media accounts. Or, you could present awards to the most engaged participants in your CSR program throughout the year.

Recognizing employees who participate in your CSR activities in these ways not only demonstrates that you appreciate their engagement but also encourages other team members to get involved. When employees know that their colleagues are involved in CSR and that there are potential rewards in it for them, they’re more likely to want to participate as well.

3. Ask for Employee Feedback

To continue improving your business’s CSR initiatives over time, check in regularly with your employees. Consider sending out a survey that includes questions such as:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how satisfied are you with our CSR programs?
  • Which aspect of the business’s CSR initiatives is your favorite and why?
  • What is one area of our CSR efforts where you see room for improvement?
  • Do you find it easy to participate in CSR at our business? Why or why not?

According to eCardWidget, soliciting employee feedback allows team members to feel heard, understood, and valued, which boosts engagement. Encourage employees to answer your CSR survey honestly, and take their feedback into consideration as you look to expand your initiatives or launch new ones.

For small businesses like yours, employee engagement can make or break your corporate social responsibility initiatives’ success. However, when you take steps to involve your employees in every step of the CSR process—from program launch to ongoing improvements—you can set your business apart as a socially responsible company and make a lasting difference in your community.