Tackling big problems like hunger, poverty and environmental degradation is no longer the sole territory of charities and nonprofits. More and more businesses are seeing the potential of combining profit and purpose.
Social enterprise is a term applied to businesses that use commercial strategies to improve communities and the environment. These companies often measure their social impact in addition to their bottom line.
Social enterprises come in all sizes, and that includes many small businesses. “Most of my clients are in the 10 employees and under category,” said Shel Horowitz, author of Guerilla Marketing to Heal the World. “Small businesses are well positioned to see the opportunity [to integrate social responsibility] and grab it because there’s no extra steps or approval you have to go through like at a big corporation.”
There are lots of ways to build a more socially conscious business, including recycling, reducing waste, sourcing responsibly, doing pro bono work and donating a portion of your profits.
If you’d like to give back but don’t know where to begin, start by looking at your core skills and competencies. “Think about how those things can help meet needs,” said Horowitz. “Where can you have the most impact with your expertise?”
New Orleans-based marketing agency HEROfarm found a way to use their expertise for the greater good. The company has committed to doing at least one pro bono project a year, and they’ve offered branding and marketing help to charities such as New Orleans Mission, the American Cancer Society and Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“The homeless population had exploded because of Hurricane Katrina, and it was something we saw wanted to help out with,” said agency cofounder Shaun Walker. “We partnered with New Orleans Mission and asked them, ‘What issues are you running into? How can we help?’” Based on that conversation, the organization was able to update the New Orleans Mission logo and sponsor a special event highlighting services for the homeless across the city.
Other companies choose to make sustainability a core part of their product line. Deltec Homes, a small home building company in Asheville, North Carolina, offers customizable prefabricated homes that range from simply energy efficient all the way to net-zero. Over the past decade or so, the company has worked to make the home production process as green as possible.
“We dug into waste and got it down, built a huge solar plant to build the homes. It’s now a key part of who Deltec is,” said Deltec President Steve Linton.
The leaders of these companies reap a sense of personal satisfaction and significant business benefits from their focus on doing good. Walker noted that working with well-known nonprofits has boosted their own reputation with customers and garnered positive media attention. Deltec, meanwhile, applied for and secured its certified B Corp status. B Corps are companies that meet rigorous standards for environmental and social accountability set forth by the nonprofit B Lab.
“It surprised me how many people were aware of this and commented to us how proud they were that we accomplished this status,” Linton said. “A lot of companies say they’re green…but the B Corp status gives customers a higher level of confidence that we’re a responsible company.”
Hororwitz isn’t at all surprised by the way customers react to these types of businesses. “People are looking to patronize socially responsible businesses,” he said. Of course, that means customers need to know about all the good your company is doing, so don’t be afraid to advertise your efforts.
“Don’t hide this under a bushel!” Horowitz said. “I’m so surprised by even big companies that seem hesitant to brag about this.”
To learn more about incorporating social responsibility into your business operations, attend the free Manta Expert webinar “5 Things You Should Know About Social Enterprise.”