Does CSR = ROI? The numbers can add up!

There has been a lot of talk lately about “community relations” or “corporate social responsibility” (CSR). Dare I say it’s become a buzz word? PR Soup finds the whole subject quite yummy. We’ve written about how to effectively integrate CSR into your current PR strategy and most recently about companies launching pseudo-CSR plans.

Undoubtedly, consumers are expecting businesses to give back. For the small business owner, the expectation is to keep the dollars on the local front and give back to the community. This need has only been magnified by today’s challenging economic times.

According to a 2010 Harris Interactive poll, more than half of US adults say that a company’s reputation for being socially responsible at least sometimes affects their decisions on whether or not they purchase something.

This puts a lot of pressure on the small business owner to do something, doesn’t it?

So how can you justify the time and energy it takes to implement a CSR strategy? First and foremost, it takes looking at the ROI a little differently. You may not be able to apply a formula to this area of PR. Let’s look at this a little closer.

Grab pen and paper and answer the following questions about your current philanthropic activities:

  • Do your customers know that you actively donate time or money to those causes?
  • Are you building brand or business awareness through your involvement?
  • Have you built any strategic alliances thorough your efforts?
  • Have you taken on a leadership role with any of these organizations?
  • Do you get sales because of your involvement?
  • Are you generating any additional content from these activities, such as video, pictures, blog posts?

Once you have the answers to those questions, think about ways to leverage those activities. It is here where you will start to feel the ROI. Here are a couple examples:

1) START SMALL. Make the change an internal one. Replace all batteries with rechargeable ones and then measure the impact in 6 months of not having to continually purchase them. Change light switches in high-traffic areas – the kitchen or bathrooms – to motion detected. Do you notice a change in electricity consumption? Write a blog post for your company website and share the news with your customers. They will thank you for being ecologically mindful.

2) SHARE YOUR PRODUCT. Do you manufacture a product that could be distributed to a low-income area at bulk pricing or offered at a discount to income qualified or nonprofit organizations? Austin, Texas-based company BuildASign does just that by offering cause-driven organizations and events a discount on printed signs if they agree to have the sign sponsored by BuildASign. It’s a win-win for both sides!

3) PUBLICITY. Have you created a program that has meaningful impact on the community and is newsworthy – either in traditional press or via social channels? Can you teach students at a local school more about what your business does, for example, you own a restaurant that helps teach children about nutrition and how to prepare healthy meals at home or to take to school. Remember, not everything is newsworthy and you do not want to come off as self-serving. Create balance here.

4.) PATIENCE. The whole adage “if you build it, they will come” holds true with CSR. But you have to have patience, and lots of it. It may take 6 months, 12 months, 18 months… but the hard work will pay off with both the community and with your employees’ job satisfaction.

A couple of parting thoughts for you:

Your CSR program does not have to be expensive, especially to start. In most communities, it’s the thought that counts – literally. You will be respected for the time, leadership and ideas that are contributed. The money will come.

Once you get started, the hardest part is maintaining momentum. Do your homework, get everyone involved and committed and then start slowly. Community relations is not a one-trick pony. You must make this a long-term strategy to see results.


Photo: Some rights reserved by ansik


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