Small Actions Greater Good Blog

What is Small Business Social Responsibility?

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Written By Tanya Quinn


Updated: March 27, 2024

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If I was to ask you to define Small Business Social Responsibility, could you?

Probably not. 


Because as of 2019, when I formed my initial ideas for Small Actions Greater Good, I couldn't find a single definition unique to small businesses. Not one single definition. And not much has changed since then. But I'm working on it. (Don't believe me? I'll show you Google results later.)

So what is my definition? Stay tuned. I'm getting there. But first, let me provide some context for this discussion. 

What Is Social Responsibility?

In general, social responsibility is the theory that any individual or business can consider society as a whole when making economic decisions. That there can be a balance between the economy and the ecosystem. That a business can contribute to the greater good AND their bottom line. 

Social Responsibility, as a concept, has been around since the late 1800s and started with early industrialists and philanthropists. It was embraced by businesses into the 20th century, with the first definition of “Corporate Social Responsibility” attributed to Howard Bowen in 1953.  

As more Corporations embraced social responsibility, “Corporate Social Responsibility” became the standard term, often replacing “Social Responsibility” entirely. It's so widely accepted now that in 2020 over 92% of the S&P 500 Corporations report annually on their sustainability efforts (a common related term for social responsibility) (G&A 2020 study.)

If you want to read more about the history of social responsibility, I recommend the following resources depending on how much detail you want:

But Can Social Responsibility Also Apply To Small Businesses?

If you refer back to the original concept of social responsibility, it's the belief a business, or individual, can be profitable and contribute to the greater good. 

So yes, social responsibility CAN apply to any business. A Small Business can absolutely be profitable and contribute to the greater good.

It's just not something as commonly referenced or discussed. But times have been changing. More and more articles and small business trends have highlighted the importance of social responsibility for small businesses, not just large ones. 

For example, when I initially launched Small Actions Greater Good in 2019,  five prominent publications included social responsibility, or aspects related to social responsibility, in their projections on the continuing and projected trends for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses (and it's continued since):

But it's not just about trends. Studies prove that customers and employees care about how businesses of any size contribute to the greater good. And they are making buying and employment decisions based on what they know. Don't believe me? Stay tuned for parts 4 and 5 in this series.   

Often, Small Business Owners know of social responsibility in general. Sometimes they may be consciously incorporating aspects into their operations. In other cases, they have elements but don't even realize them. For most, they are already doing more than they even realize.

There are also a lot of studies that demonstrate WHY social responsibility is important. These reasons, or benefits, are just as applicable to Small Businesses as Corporations. I'll discuss this in Part 5 of this email series.

How Does a Small Business Owner Get Started? 

As a Small Business Owner, you might head online for an Internet search if you are just getting started. As of the updated date for this blog post (August 2022), if you search for Small Business Social Responsibility on Google, you'll see over 542 MILLION results.

However, as you scroll through the first few pages, you'll quickly notice that Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR appears in almost 3/4 of the results in the first few pages, either in the title or short description. 

How many of you, as Small Business Owners, think that anything labeled “Corporate” will be easy to implement for your business?

Before you continue researching to learn what a CSR program is, let me save you some time. 

It's important to note there isn't one single standard for CSR. There are no governing bodies that officially enforce it. If you try to find one unifying definition of CSR, you'll quickly learn that it's a little different no matter where you look.

In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 26000:2010, a set of voluntary guidelines on how businesses and organizations can be socially responsible. But unfortunately, ISO standards are often too complicated or extensive for small businesses. And to add to the complication, ISO standards are more widely accepted internationally but not within the US.

There are some great publications that detail how to implement CSR, my favorites being The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (referenced earlier) and Key Concepts in Corporate Social Responsibility by Suzanne Benn & Dianne Bolton.  

But in general, all CSR programs guide their corporation to be a good overall citizen by defining how their company affects the people they interact with (shareholders, customers, employees, etc.), society as a whole, and the environment.

They are GREAT programs… for large businesses and corporations. But, as someone who's worked on both sides of the fence, I can definitively state that tools and resources created for Corporations or Large Businesses rarely apply to Small Businesses. Often, the word “Corporate” alone will turn away Small Business Owners from even looking at the content.

As a Small Business Owner, do you have extra time on your hands to dig through pages and pages of research or to read ISO Standards or 100+ page books to determine the best way to establish a CSR program, but on a smaller scale? Do you know many other Small Business Owners with the extra time or staff to dedicate to this?

I'm guessing you are shaking your head no. You are not alone.

Searching for Small Business SPECIFIC Resources

Even after all the CSR references, if you were VERY interested in social responsibility, you might not have given up with Google yet. Perhaps you continue to dig through your initial search results (digging through the 542 million results), looking for content that is useful without being overwhelming.  

Or, perhaps you switch to other search strings such as do good as a small business, social good for small business, make a difference through my small business, and on and on.

There is a lot of great content to find. But, most of these results are generic. For example, they tell you how good it is for your business. Or provide general ideas for what to do. Or, they refer back to CSR again. But very few tell you practical, easy, and straightforward instructions on HOW to do it. 

Now at this point, many people will have given up. But, there may still be a few of you like me. Who stops and thinks, “there HAS to be more out there.” So you go one step further, using quotations in your search strings, and look for VERY detailed results. 

Again, let me save you time:

  • If you Google “Small Business Social Responsibility Strategy,” you'll find THREE single results. As a comparison, searching for “Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy” returns 122 thousand results. 
  • If you Google “Small Business Social Responsibility Guidelines,” you'll find ZERO results. Searching for “Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines” returns 10.8 thousand results.
  • If you Google “Small Business Social Responsibility Tools,” you'll find ONE result. Searching for “Corporate Social Responsibility Tools” returns 4.1 thousand results. 
  • And finally, if you only look for a definition, if you Google “Small Business Social Responsibility Definition,” you'll get THREE results (which are on my website – initially, there were none). Searching for “Corporate Social Responsibility Definition” returns 8.7 THOUSAND results.

*These results are from August 2022, when this blog was last updated.

According to the U.S. Small Business Association's 2021 Small Business Profile, there are 32.5 million Small Businesses in the US (99.9% of US businesses). They employ 61.2 million people, approximately 46.8% of the private workforce. Most of that employment is by firms with less than 100 people.

And yet, as demonstrated by the Google searches above, most of the online information is focused on Corporations.

Just IMAGINE all the possible good if more, dare I say most, Small Businesses focused some of their energy on social responsibility.

To me, this was utterly unacceptable. So I did something about it.

Small Actions Greater Good – Filling a Gap

I created Small Actions Greater Good to fill the missing gap for Small Business specific resources, tools, and training. To support Small Business Owners who want to contribute to the greater good while also supporting their business. And for those Owners who already contribute but want to do more!

With their often-limited resources and time available, Small Business Owners don't need to create large programs. Instead, any small actions taken can be a helpful step in the right direction, and when combined with the power of other Small Business Owners, these actions can add up to make a huge difference. But those actions need to be strategic. And effective. And easy. 

I believe that Small Business Social Responsibility deserves its own definition, strategy, guidelines, and tools – a completely new approach specific to the needs and wants of Small Business Owners.

 So I started first with a new definition.

Small Business Social Responsibility = A commitment to contribute to social good by acting as or making changes to your small business beyond your standard business operations.

Tanya Quinn, Founder of Small Actions Greater Good

Do You Want To Get Started?!

A definition only takes you so far. A definition doesn't provide the HOW; it only defines the WHAT. 

The HOW still needs to be discussed.

Besides the new definition, I also created a unique approach for Small Business Social Responsibility – the Small Actions Framework. Continue reading the next blog post to learn more.

The power to make a difference in the world is NOT only for corporations. Join me and other like-minded Small Business Owners!

About This Content

This article is part 1 of a 7-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. (This Article) 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)

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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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