Startups Will Not Survive Without Social Responsibility Programs

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By Andrew Heikkila

As millennials age and begin to represent a larger portion of the market pie, it’s become obvious that their interests must be accounted for if leading business wish to remain viable in the modern world. As such, corporate social responsibility (CSR) has become a hot topic for enterprise-level organizations the world over.

Startups and SMBs, on the other hand, may find dedicating time and resources to corporate social responsibility harder to justify. It’s not like they have as much capital to throw around, and may end up putting it on the back burner, or worse, forgoing CSR initiatives altogether.

The millennials are changing everything

If you ask Tiffany Apczynski, VP of public policy and social impact for Zendesk, shirking CSR is not only inadvisable, but could be disastrous for startups. She claims that more than 90 percent of consumers around the world today will move toward brands associated with a good cause, and she’s not alone.

As Adweek reports, millennials represented $2.45 trillion in spending power at the dawn of 2016. And Omnicom Group’s Cone Communications show that 70 percent will choose to buy from brands supporting causes that they care about.

The rise of consumer awareness can be attributed to the information age and the increasing accessibility of the Internet: The more visible global and social issues are, the more likely those paying attention will make decisions based on them. The next generations just happen to be, generally, more plugged in and informed than their predecessors.

Working out the kinks with CSR

The good news is that the power of consumer spending is actually creating positive change, diplomatically forcing organizations to adopt purpose beyond profit. The problem as it stands is that businesses are still working out the kinks with CSR. According to global marketing firm BrandStar, 65 percent of consumers are unable to make sense of businesses’ and brands’ social responsibility programs.

Engaging in CSR is the right thing to do regardless, but you’re missing out on huge opportunities if you’re not advertising your efforts properly. Not only is market share a scarce commodity that is on the way to rule-by-CSR-visibility, but so are great employees.

“The next generation of employees is seeking out employers that are focused on the triple bottom line: people, planet and revenue,” Susan Cooney, founder of crowdfunding philanthropy platform Givelocity, told Business News Daily.

It’s easy to forget that millennials represent not only the lion’s share of consumers, but also the bulk of new talent in the job market. Indeed, studies have shown that more ethical leaders have employees who are more engaged at work and less emotionally exhausted.

What’s a startup to do?

If a startup or SMB has the opportunity to base the majority of their business around a socially responsible model, more power to them. However, it’s important to remember that CSR doesn’t have to be the lynchpin of your business operations, even if CSR visibility is becoming essential for the modern business’s success.

Even global businesses such as ERP solutions provider Unit 4 can bring life to seemingly simplistic ideas like an international kids sports day. So, who’s to say that a smaller company can’t compete with that? Any Startup or SMB that can organize a similar initiative in their own localized area is essentially doing as much as a global organization might, even if players and locations are different.

The point is that even’ small’ causes are worth investing in. Kelly Reddington, for example, donates a meal to an American in need every time his company, Altered Seasons, sells one of its eco-friendly candles. Rebecca Peragine uses recycled materials and eco-friendly inks to sell cards and posters promoting environmental education for kids, and donates sales of a specific poster to Future Fortified. Jessica Ekstrom donates a dollar from each made-in-U.S. Headbands of Hope sale to cancer research via St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

There are plenty of other examples of socially responsible businesses that are making relatively modest contributions. If there’s a cause you believe in–or, better yet, that your customer base is passionate–there’s almost definitely a way that you can support that cause. Where there’s a will there’s a way. If you’re having a hard time coming up with one of your own, ask a couple of friends about local charities you can support, or consider surveying your target market.

When all is said and done, your customers not only want their dollar and your organization to support and better the world that we all live in, but they demand it. The customer is always right, as the old adage goes–but perhaps that saying is adopting new meaning, distancing itself from the entitlement mindset that permeates business and marketplace culture, and inching closer toward a brighter, more sustainable world view. Whatever the case, startups, SMBs, and enterprise-level organizations without social responsibility programs will soon cease to exist–and I’m beginning to think that’s not such a bad thing.

Image credit: Pexels

Andy O. is a writer, musician, and small-business owner from Boise, ID. He’s a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino films, habanero pizza, craft beer, and watching Rick and Morty on repeat. Get schwifty with Andy on Twitter @AndyO_TheHammer.

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