What is truly the purpose of business? Is it purely profits? Certainly that is the purpose of commerce, but commerce is only one part of a business’s existence. Businesses must start finding a means of participating in the full range of the environment in which they live.
The concept of business “giving back” is a significant component of a company’s brand. Traditionally seen as specific to the not-for-profit, in recent years it has gained critical mass in the “for-profit” community. Thus corporate social responsibility (CSR) has been developing as a means of explaining the concept that a business can give back to the society that it exists within. While the definition is dynamic across industries, it is clearly evident that more and more routinely, stake holders are using corporate responsibility as one of the yardsticks by which they measure companies…. for procurement, partnering and employement opportunities. In fact, some innovative organizations are even starting to track these efforts and present awards to organizations that best exemplify the concept.
The 2009 Brands with a Conscienceawards were announced recently by the Medinge Group, an international think-tank on branding. http://www.medinge.org/press/2009/01/international-think-tank-announces-2009.html. These awards look at corporate responsibility in the fullest sense of it’s definition. Nominees are considered based upon “…principles of humanity and ethics, rather than financial worth. The Brands with a Conscience list is shaped around criteria including evidence of the human implications of the brand and considering whether the brand takes risks in line with its beliefs. ” (Medinge 2009 http://www.medinge.org/)
Like any other concept that is in it’s early youth, CSR has strong supporters and critics, and as might be expected the definition remains flexible. The Medinge Group winners make social responsibility the center piece of their strategic plan. From today’s perspective on relevant brands, it is certainly a critical part of an organization’s overall strategic plan, given that customers, employees and partners are bringing this to the forefront as part of their decision on where to build relationships.
There is no better time to begin. You can take small steps by looking at the immediate environment where your organization functions. Is there a way to give back to your community? Are there organizations that a large part of your employees belong to or support? Is there an organization or independent agency in your industry that provides direction on where to give back? You can take a bigger step by incorporating these plans in your strategic efforts, starting with defining level and ownership. The temptation will be to assign this to Marketing or HR. Truth is, that done correctly this is a company wide responsibility.
One final caveat… this can not be done for the sake of manipulating the customer or getting something back. In today’s socially conscious environment, any effort that is done for gain will be seen through quickly. Giving back is just that… giving back, done for no greater reason than it is the right thing to do.