By Gary Thompson

Corporate Social Responsibility is much talked about, but the reality is that all businesses can, and perhaps should, do more to put something back into society.

With various different approaches to CSR, ranging from community based development to philanthropy, the ultimate aim of them all is similar — to give something back, yes, but also to enhance the reputation of the company as a caring, sharing supplier, buyer, partner and employer.

But CSR is not just the realm of the large corporate operation. They may have more resources and funds at their disposal, but the benefits of CSR can quickly impact on smaller businesses.

Get buy-in from employees and they will feel more motivated, loyal and proud of working for a business that gives something back to the local community. Share details of your activities with customers and suppliers and, in my experience, the relationship you have strengthens with the ‘feel-good’ factor rubbing off on others.

But, if you’re one of the thousands of smaller businesses in the UK, how do you go about implementing a CSR programme that will deliver a positive impact for society and you? The key is to keep it simple. There’s no need to overcomplicate CSR with elaborate policies, lengthy brochures, and complex initiatives. Daily tasks can help some of the most needy, so look at your options before committing to a long-winded process, or deciding to ignore CSR completely.

To help, here is my five point plan to help you structure your approach — it doesn’t take much to make a difference..

1)Consider your purchasing process — Donating to a charity doesn’t have to cost your business a penny. You can actually donate to charities and good causes every time you buy anything — from stationery to hotels and computers. Websites such as easyfundraising.org.uk work with hundreds of different retailers, who make a donation to charity every time a purchase is made with them through the site. As the retailer makes the donation — typically 5% of the total sales value — there’s no cost to the customer, and you can choose to give to a local cause — be that a local school that needs a new sports hall, or a national charity.

2)Get your team involved — It may sound obvious, but getting the whole of your company involved in your CSR is integral to its success. Give them half a day or more off each month to do support work with your chosen community projects. I know companies whose employees have done everything from dry stone walling in conservation projects to working with disadvantaged children and volunteering at hospices. It gives your employees an insight into the reason why your CSR is so important, gets their buy-in, and strengthens your profile in the community.

3)Engage with the community — whether you want to help support a good cause in your local community, or get involved with a project you are passionate about nationally or overseas, it’s important to start engaging with people about the work. By listening and learning about the issues, challenges and opportunities you’ll quickly be able to give something back — be that advice, support or finances — and you’ll be getting your name and business known among a much wider audience that will respect you for your focus on the cause.

4)It’s easy to be green — Recycling everything from paper to milk cartons is free and easy, but it doesn’t need to cost the earth to get your business doing a little bit more. Switch off your PCs at night and turning the heating down may be common sense, but why not encourage staff to cycle to work, or for a small investment buy some company bikes.

5)Look at your suppliers and partners — Just as others will look at you for your social credentials, a big part of your CSR should be looking at those you buy from and partner with. Work with companies that have strong environmental and social commitments and their focus will reflect on you. This will also help build buy-in from your employees as they see the companies they deal with on a daily basis giving back to the community and making a difference.

If you’re still not convinced that CSR is for you, take a look at the recent report by the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility, based at Cranfield University, which identified over 60 business benefits from being a responsible business — these were grouped into - Brand value and reputation; Employees and future workforce; Operational effectiveness; Risk reduction and management; Direct financial impact; Organisational growth; and Business opportunity, underlining the breadth of impact available from adopting CSR.

Indeed the Edelman 2010 Trust Barometer found that “In 2010 public trust in companies was least affected by financial performance, whereas 64% cited good corporate citizenship and 83% cited transparent and honest practices as important to corporate reputation.”

CSR is no longer the realm of the big corporation — it is increasingly important for businesses of all size. Start your CSR with these five simple actions and you will quickly see the difference — both on a personal level and for your business. The process of actually getting involved generates its own feel good factor, and you, your team and your business will reap the benefit.

CSR doesn’t need to look spectacular — you can do your bit even when you’re doing every day purchasing. But it makes a difference to other people’s lives.

About The Author

Gary Thompson is Managing Director of the UK’s leading shopping fundraising site www.easyfundraising.org.uk, which features over 2,000 retailers donating to over 20,000 causes.

* The report by the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility can be found here - http://www.bitc.org.uk/resources/publications/the_business_case.html