The term Corporate Social Responsibility is broad, and often means different things to different organizations. Some have a formalized CSR strategy in place that extends from internal business practices through to their external communications and environmental impact. Others simply have a core mission of consciousness that is embodied in all of their activities. And still others range from philanthropic giving programs to local grassroots efforts to cause marketing campaigns and everything in between.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to being a responsible company, but the one quality that they all share is that they are at least aware of the importance of embracing a socially conscious mindset for doing business. Wherever they fall along the continuum, Coethica, an ethics-driven firm built on the tenets of Responsibility, Integrity and Transparency, is focused on helping small businesses through large organizations strike a balance in effectively integrating these values into their practices.
Founded by David Connor, Coethica helps companies make a sustainable difference with an individualized approach to doing good from development of a complete CSR plan to changing lightbulbs that reduce energy bills and carbon footprint. They even create unique partnership opportunities with sports and football teams (although we call it “soccer” on this side of the pond!), designed to connect with the community and spark awareness in a compelling way. And that’s a winning combination that will kickstart change, even from the sidelines.
1. How do you define for-profit philanthropy?
My attempt at a definition would be: a combination of impatient business minds and a passion to serve a greater good.
2. Please describe your philanthropic business plan and your current charitable activities.
My first experience was age 6, when I decided to sell some of my mother’s unused kitchen utensils along our street to raise money for charity. Great idea, but the plan was fatally flawed by an irked but sympathetic Mrs. Connor disagreeing to which specific utensils where available (if any!), and suggested I should ask her first before selecting items for sale. It took me the best part of 30 years to realise this endeavour was part of my personal make up and should be an integral part of my daily efforts.
The vehicle for this was to establish Coethica. Initially created as a private limited company and best described as a Corporate Social Responsibility consultancy. I’m not a fan of the term CSR by any means, but until the world can agree on a better title (simply good business practice, perhaps?) it’s pretty close. I considered a charitable structure and also that of a social enterprise but eventually decided on the flexibility of a private limited company. For me, the structure can be to some degree irrelevant. I know of very commercial registered charities, very charitable limited companies and everything in between. At the smaller end of scale, it is almost entirely about people and ethos. A limited company can donate all of its profits if the shareholders want to.
One of the main reasons I became an entrepreneur, and I had no great desire or history of planning to do so (it all sort of fell into place in a very serendipitous fashion), was to work with smaller businesses and take the ‚ÄòC’ word out of Corporate Social Responsibility. 99% of businesses in many developed countries are small or medium (SME) sized, yet the title itself discriminated against the majority of businesses that could engage and be better local citizens. This discrimination was reflected in the support and tools available to SMEs; nobody else was doing this, so me being me, decided that I could potentially make a difference and set up Coethica.
Before anybody says they don’t believe in CSR, I would argue that almost every business is already engaging in it, they just don’t call it that or actively manage the issues that fall into that category — especially philanthropy. I was surprised to find on my travels just how many businesses were supporting good causes. I suppose it’s one of those things we all know but don’t really understand the scale until you see it firsthand. The main problem is the real lack of depth or relationship between the good cause and usually the owner/manager reacting to a request for a cheque. I’m a massive advocate of supporting good causes but at a grassroots level. The amount of wasted opportunities on both parts is unacceptable. Instead of the usual process of request and cheque presentation (maybe a photo if you’re lucky) why can’t we build relationships and get both sides to work harder and enjoy greater mutual benefit? I know time is money, and at the SME level this couldn’t be more important, but looking at the relationship more like a partnership rather than a donation reaps rewards for everybody! If a company receives more from the partnership than they expect, they are more likely to support again with more resource.
I am also the Chair of a community regeneration project called Enable, and a Trustee of Liverpool Habitat for Humanity.
3. How do you communicate the impact of these efforts to your customers?
The first step is to understand what they have done historically, why they did it, their true values and what they would like to do if they could make the world a better place. Ironically, in a number of cases the business was donating way more than they thought which was affecting their profitability and therefore their ability to support good causes. It’s all about balance and maximising resources; we want the business to do as well as possible and also find the most appropriate good cause that will get the most benefit. Sometimes matching them up is a bit like a dating agency! Each of our customers is different; they are all people within a commercial structure. We have to identify from the people who make decisions at which point (on a balance between pure commercialism and pure philanthropy) their values lie, and tailor our communications to that focus. Some want to make a difference and use profits and others want to see more benefits coming back to the company. My personal view is that I’m unconcerned about their motives as long as they are engaging with good causes. I would prefer everybody to do the right thing for the right reasons but, unfortunately, the real world isn’t that morally developed, especially businesses, as we all know, to our detriment.
4. Why do you think it’s important for companies to adopt philanthropy as part of their revenue model?
If it is part of the revenue model, it immediately becomes more sustainable. If such financial commitments are seen as just an extension of a high ranking executive’s values, they also become vulnerable. It is about positioning philanthropy as an integrated part of businesses in addition to socially responsible conduct. It has to be understood as both.
Philanthropy needs to be sold internally in all of the ways that can benefit the company. Those on the receiving end of philanthropy understand its true social value; however, those in business can often be ‚Äòdistracted.’.
5. What would you say is the most critical element in successfully implementing philanthropic endeavors?
I’m going to hedge my bets here and say successful implementation would require innovation, a true partnership approach, balance and commitment. If I were pushed, I’d have to focus on balance. If a business understands social needs and society understands commercial needs in a truly open and honest forum you will be well on the way to a beautiful relationship that’s highly beneficial for all involved.
Name: David Connor
Title: Managing Director
Company: Coethica Limited
Website: www.coethica.com | Blog: http://davidcoethica.wordpress.com