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Levels of Social Responsibility (How Socially Responsible is Your Small Business?)

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Written By Tanya Quinn

Take a free business assessment to determine your level of Social Responsibility.

Do you know your level of social responsibility? Or could you describe your level of small business social responsibility?

Most likely not.

Why? You probably don’t have a reference point. Or clearly defined levels to select from.

In this article, I’m going to look at a historical classification for the level of Corporate Social Responsibility and then propose a new way to consider the level of Small Business Social Responsibility used within the Small Actions Framework (SAF).

Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility

If you search for “level of social responsibility” online, most results will direct you to a paper published by Archie Carroll in 1991, “Pyramid of Corporate Social Responsibility”. It’s one of my favorite historical concepts or theories for Corporate Social Responsibility that established a pyramid of four clear levels of responsibility for corporations wanting to be good global citizens.

  • Level 1 – Economic Responsibilities = Be profitable. The foundation upon which all others rest.
  • Level 2 – Legal Responsibilities = Obey the law. Law is society’s codification of right and wrong. Play by the rules of the game.
  • Level 3 – Ethical Responsibilities = Be ethical. Obligation to do what is right, just, and fair. Avoid harm.
  • Level 4 – Philanthropic Responsibilities = Be a good corporate citizen. Contribute resources to the community; improve quality of life.

This article, and the four levels, clarifies the foundation for one of the key concepts of social responsibility. It clearly puts the need for a business to be profitable FIRST and then adds increasing levels of responsibility on top of this foundation. These are often also referred to as types of social responsibility.

For most businesses, Carroll’s 1, 2, and 3 levels are now standard. Businesses are expected to be profitable, legal, and ethical. They then can CHOOSE to be philanthropic or a good corporate citizen. Most of the activities people refer to now within “Corporate Social Responsibility” activities fall only into Level 4.

Levels of Small Business Social Responsibility

In previous blogs, I’ve talked about how the general principles and intention of Corporate Social Responsibility apply to Small Businesses. However, I don’t believe that the APPROACH to Corporate Social Responsibility is the best for Small Businesses.

Small Business Owners rarely have the resources, or the need, to implement large programs. The Small Actions Framework (SAF) was specifically created to provide an alternative and easier approach for Small Business Owners (if you haven’t already read the blog post introducing the Small Actions Framework, you may want to do so before continuing here).

It’s also designed to provide Small Business Owners with the flexibility to determine how much social good they want to do and the scalability to increase or decrease their efforts as their schedule and resources allow. In many cases, Small Business Owners may not even be aware of Social Responsibility and how it can benefit their business.

To communicate and work with all Small Business Owners, I created four levels of Small Business Social Responsibility that categorize a Small Business Owner’s interest, awareness, and activity regarding social responsibility:

  • Level 1 – Casual Small Business Social Responsibility
  • Level 2 – Reactive Small Business Social Responsibility
  • Level 3 – Intentional Small Business Social Responsibility
  • Level 4 – Strategic Small Business Social Responsibility

Each level has slightly different guidance on how to best implement Social Responsibility efforts for their particular situation. The levels also allow Business Owners to transition between the levels as needed.

Level 1 – Casual Small Business Social Responsibility

Level 1 of the Small Actions Framework is “Casual Small Business Social Responsibility”. At this level, a Small Business Owner is either:

  1. Occasionally (or unintentionally) doing some social good, but it’s not given much thought and may not deeply connect to the business.
  2. Doing social good, but intentionally not sharing their efforts because of limiting beliefs.

The goal of Small Actions Greater Good is to move every business from Level 1 (Casual) to Level 2 (Reactive) at the very least. The transition point from Level 1 to Level 2 happens when a Small Business Owner has a better understanding of how social responsibility can apply to small businesses and accepts that it’s OK to communicate about and benefit from social responsibility.

Level 2 – Reactive Small Business Social Responsibility

Level 2 of the SAF is Casual Small Business Social Responsibility. At this level, a Small Business Owner is aware of Social Responsibility, understands and accepts how it could benefit their business, and is interested in doing more good. However, they don’t have the time or resources to make plans for specific efforts.

The goal of businesses in Level 2 is to embrace a Social Responsibility Mindset, incorporate social responsibility into decisions whenever presented with an opportunity, and to communicate about and therefore benefit from these actions when possible.

For example, a Small Business Owners may be ordering new supplies for the office, and keeping social responsibility in mind, he/she may opt for selecting recycled paper. For Level 2, it’s about making socially responsible choices when or if an opportunity arises. The decisions are made primarily in reaction to other decisions; they are not planned in advance. The action is usually done as a simple task (without multiple steps).

The transition point from Level 2 to Level 3 happens when a Small Business Owner makes the commitment to more fully embrace social responsibility and has available resources to plan actions in advance. How much or how often to take action is up to each Small Business Owner, the distinction between Level 2 and Level 3 is that planning is done in advance to make the efforts effective.

Level 3 – Intentional Small Business Social Responsibility

Level 3 of the SAF is Intentional Small Business Social Responsibility. At this level, a Small Business Owner is aware of Social Responsibility, understands and accepts how it could benefit their business, is interested in doing good, AND has the resources and desire to plan efforts in advance. When planning is possible, actions can be done easier and made effective, which ensures that you minimize the efforts it takes and maximize the benefits your business may receive.

The goal of businesses in Level 3 is to do as much effective social good as possible, when and how you choose to take action, and to set aside time to plan for the action in advance. The action is usually done as a project , which is a series of tasks with a clearly defined objective and a defined start date and end date.

The transition point from Level 3 to Level 4 happens when a Small Business Owner makes a larger commitment to incorporate social responsibility as an integral component of their business and commits to strategically planning a larger approach.

Level 4 – Strategic Small Business Social Responsibility

Level 4 of the SAF is Strategic Small Business Social Responsibility. At this level, a Small Business Owner has fully embraced social responsibility and wants to incorporate it as an ongoing, routine, and integral part of their business. Actions are usually done via a program, which is a combined group of related projects that are coordinated to meet an overall program objective.

The goal of a business in Level 4 is to do as much effective social good as possible that is intimately connected to the purpose and mission of their business and woven into their overall strategic planning process.

Strategic Social Responsibility is further divided into 2 categories:

  • Holistic Strategic Approach – A business is focused on improving its Social Responsibility efforts across all four categories (1 – Business Integrity, 2 – Health, Safety, and Wellness, 3 – Environmental Impact, and 4 – Community Engagement)
  • Cornerstone Strategic Approach – A business selects particular categories of action to focus its strategic approach around that specifically connect to its mission, purpose, or values.

Businesses often oscillate between Level 2 and Level 3 as their resources permit. However, once a business transitions to Level 4 it’s unusual to change as the commitment to social responsibility becomes a part of their business.

What Level of Social Responsibility Applies to Your Business?

Based on the descriptions here, what level are you?

If you don’t know the answer for sure, or you think you know your level and you want to learn more but aren’t sure where to start, I have you covered.

You can take a quick free assessment that will determine your level of social responsibility AND give you recommendations on what you may want to do next.

Start the Free Social Responsibility Assessment

About This Content

This article is part 8 of an 8-part series that introduces foundational concepts about Small Business Social Responsibility, Small Actions Greater Good, and the Small Actions Framework. Links to these articles are provided below.

  1. What is Small Business Social Responsibility?
  2. What is the Small Actions Framework? (A Unique Social Responsibility Approach for Small Businesses)
  3. How Can You Do Good as a Small Business? (Categories of Social Responsibility)
  4. Why Should Businesses Be Socially Responsible? (Or More Specifically Small Businesses)
  5. What Are the Potential Benefits of Social Responsibility?
  6. What’s Holding You Back? (Social Responsibility in Small Business)
  7. Doing Good is Good Business (IF You Do It Effectively)
  8. (This Article) Levels of Social Responsibility (How Socially Responsible is Your Small Business?)

As an alternative to reading each of the blogs separately, you sign up for a free 8-part email series, An Introduction to Social Responsibility for Small Business Owners, which includes most of the content from these 8 blogs.

Sign Up for the Email Series

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Tanya Quinn, Founder of Small Actions Greater Good

About Small Actions Greater Good

Small Actions Greater Good provides education, resources, and training to make it easier for Small Businesses Owners to do more effective social good that benefits their business, makes them proud of their efforts, and inspires others (also known as Small Business Social Responsibility).

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Founder of Small Actions Greater Good

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