What CSR Program is Right for My Business? 7 Ideas

The title of the article superimposed over an image of a dance instructor helping a student.

If your business is looking to raise support in your local community, it may be worthwhile to turn to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Small businesses and those with tight budgets may have doubts about their ability to get involved in philanthropy, but with the right CSR program, you’ll find being a good corporate citizen is shockingly achievable. 

But what is the right CSR program for your business? To answer this question, we’ll dive into seven of our favorite, impactful ideas for making a difference in your community. First, however, we need to make it clear just what we mean by CSR and how it differs from philanthropy.

CSR vs. Corporate Philanthropy

CSR and corporate philanthropy have a lot in common and regularly overlap. To clarify the differences, let’s take a look at 360MatchPro’s corporate philanthropy vs. CSR Venn diagram:

A Venn diagram of the differences and similarities of CSR and corporate philanthropy.

Essentially, CSR is a company’s attitude and values toward making an impact on the community, and it includes internal policies unrelated to nonprofits. In contrast, corporate philanthropy is the actions a company takes to make an impact, which usually includes donations of time, services, and money. 

For instance, a mining company cleaning up a site after closing down operations is CSR, but it’s not corporate philanthropy since the company did not make a charitable donation to a third party. With this distinction in mind, this guide will explore a range of CSR ideas, some of which also include a philanthropic element.

7 CSR Program Ideas

CSR can help your company gain goodwill from your local community, engage employees, and build a more sustainable business. Let’s dive into seven small business CSR ideas that can accomplish just that.

1. Matching Gifts

You can engage in CSR and appreciate your employees at the same time with a matching gifts program. In a matching gifts program, your employees donate and report their gifts to you. Then, your business matches each donation, dollar per dollar.

When setting up a matching gift program, you’ll need to set guidelines for the following:
  • Employee eligibility. Will all of your employees be able to participate in your matching gift program, or will you set limits, such as only making full-time employees eligible?
  • Nonprofit eligibility. Many businesses place limits on what types of nonprofits they will match gifts to. Usually, these limits only exclude a few kinds of nonprofits, like political and religious organizations, but some set tighter guidelines to focus CSR efforts, such as only matching gifts to educational institutions. 
  • Minimum and maximum donation amounts. Will you match donations of any size or do employees need to give a certain amount to qualify? For reference, many businesses set a $25 minimum for matching gifts. Also, consider the maximum amount you’ll match per employee per year. This limit will help keep your matching gift program within your budget.
  • Match request deadline. Determine when employees must submit their match requests by. For many businesses, this is usually the end of the year, but some offer grace periods for end-of-year donations and set deadlines in March or April.

Additionally, consider your confirmation process. Will you take employees at their word when they report a donation, require a donation receipt, or even get in touch with the nonprofit to confirm the donation?

2. Volunteer Grants

Volunteer grants are similar to matching gifts, only instead of donating when employees donate, your nonprofit donates when employees volunteer. 

For your volunteer grant program, you’ll need to establish similar guidelines including what types of nonprofits to support and which employees are eligible. The major other point to consider is how you will award funds based on hours volunteered. Businesses usually take either of these two approaches:
  1. Donate a flat amount after a certain number of hours have been volunteered (i.e., $200 after an employee volunteers 20 hours). 
  2. Donate an amount for each hour volunteered (i.e., $10 per volunteer hour).

Volunteer grants and matching gifts alike show your employees you care about the same causes they do. Both programs provide flexibility in the causes you support, allowing your nonprofit to impact a wide range of causes that are meaningful to your workforce.

3. Cause Marketing

Your business may not have the resources to implement social good programs yourself, but you likely have the ability to elevate organizations that do. Cause-related marketing, also known as cause marketing, is a type of CSR wherein a business promotes and markets a nonprofit’s mission. 

Cause marketing can be a formal collaboration between a nonprofit and a business, or a business can independently decide to promote a social issue and direct customers to various nonprofits. If a nonprofit has approached you or you want to build a connection with another local organization, the former method is likely preferable, but you can get started with cause marketing even without any nonprofit connections. 

When considering what causes to market, consider your audience. For instance, most businesses choose to support causes related to their products and services, such as a grocery store working with a food bank or a dance studio promoting performing arts nonprofits. 

Last, consider what marketing channels you have at your disposal. If you have a strong web presence, making regular blog and social media posts may be sufficient, whereas other businesses may opt to do in-store marketing, such as handing out pamphlets and flyers to customers.

4. In-Kind Donations

In addition to cash donations, businesses can also donate physical goods and services. These contributions are called in-kind donations and generally take three forms:
  1. Donations of products, such as a pet supplies store donating pet food to a local shelter. 
  2. Discounts for nonprofits, such as a software company offering nonprofits their products at a reduced price. 
  3. Free services, such as a photographer agreeing to take and edit high-quality photos for a nonprofit’s website and brochure. 

In-kind giving is a productive CSR program for businesses that have products and services useful to nonprofits. If this fits your business, reach out to nonprofits in your area to see if they need any in-kind donations at this time.

5. Environmental Impact Plan

For internal improvements, your business can participate in CSR by being more environmentally conscious. Double the Donation provides a few real-world examples of this type of CSR program:
  • 80% of shoe retailer TOMs’ packaging is made of recycled materials, and the company aims to expand to 100% in the next few years. 
  • Umbrella corporation Unilever plans to have its brands achieve net zero emissions and influence its suppliers to follow suit.
  • Amalgamated Bank pledges not to provide loans to fossil fuel companies and invests in climate solutions, such as solar power. 

From these examples, consider how your business can make a positive environmental impact. This might mean reducing your carbon footprint, using environmentally friendly products, or working with climate-conscious third-party suppliers.

6. DEI Initiatives

Is your business supporting and providing equal opportunities to all members of your community? Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives involve more than just hiring a diverse team (though that’s a good place to start!). To ensure all employees feel included and welcome in your business, be sure to:
  • Provide equal opportunities for advancement, training, and promotion to all team members. 
  • Understand and listen to ideas from all team members. 
  • Have support mechanisms in place if issues arise, such as a robust HR department or a team member in charge of managing HR concerns.

Including a range of voices in your business decisions, especially if those voices reflect the makeup of your community, can provide a range of benefits. New ideas and creative solutions are likely to flourish when everyone can share viewpoints from their unique insights and experiences.

7. Corporate Volunteer Days

Meet community needs by getting your team out and involved with your community through corporate volunteer days. Rather than asking employees to volunteer on their time off, corporate volunteer days take your team out to a nonprofit during the work day to lend a few hours to help a good cause. 

Survey your employees to find causes they care about and would like to volunteer with. Then, reach out to identified local organizations to arrange a corporate volunteer day. Be sure to have a headcount ready and suggestions about what type of work your team would be able to do. Some nonprofits have better activities for teams ready, whereas others may need time to plan or rearrange current volunteer activities to accommodate a large team working together.

From internally focused environmental initiatives to matching employee donations, CSR comes in all shapes and sizes. Talk with your team and assess local needs to find the CSR program that’s right for your business and community.