If I was to ask you to define Small Business Social Responsibility, could you?
Probably not. Because, as of 2019, when the initial ideas for Small Actions Greater Good were developed, I couldn’t find a definition unique to small businesses.
That made little sense to me… so I created one.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about Social Responsibility overall.
What is Social Responsibility?
As a general term, social responsibility is the theory that any individual or business can consider the greater good when making economic decisions. That there can be a balance between the economy and the ecosystem.
The overall concept of Social Responsibility has been around since the late 1800s and has gradually morphed over time to become synonymous with “Corporate Social Responsibility.”
If you want to read more about the history of social responsibility, I recommend the following resources depending on how much detail you want:
- Brief Description: Corporate Social Responsibility: A Brief History (online description published by the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals)
- Detailed Article: The Origins of Corporate Social Responsibility (an article written by Eric Chaffee and published by the University of Cincinnati Law Review in 2017)
- Published Book: The Oxford Handbook of Corporate Social Responsibility (Part II – A History of Corporate Social Responsibility) published by Archie B. Carroll in 2009
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. Even the components of what’s included as part of CSR differ widely.
In 2010, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) published ISO 26000:2010. This is a set of voluntary guidelines on how businesses and organizations can operate in a socially responsible manner to standardize worldwide efforts. It’s intended to apply to any sized business, but ISO standards are often thought of as very detailed or complicated, especially for Small Businesses. In general, U.S. companies aren’t as quick to consider them as international companies either.
But… no matter how a CSR program is created, in essence, it focuses on how a corporation can be a good overall citizen in the world by considering how their company affects the people they interact with (shareholders, customers, employees, etc.), society as a whole, and the environment.
Does Social Responsibility Apply To Small Businesses?
If you refer back to the original concept of Social Responsibility, it’s the belief that anyone or any business can consider both profit and the greater good. So yes, it CAN apply to any business.
At the end of 2018 and into early 2019, multiple large publications shared their projections on the continuing and projected trends for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses:
- Entrepreneur.com: 5 Business Trends That Will Continue to Rise in 2019
- Business News Daily.com: 20 Small Business Trends and Predictions for 2019
- Forbes.com: The Top Five Small Business Trends To Monitor In 2019
- US Chamber of Commerce: 2019 Trends May Inspire New Business Ideas
- SBDC Net: 2019 Small Business Trends to Watch
In many of the articles, Social Responsibility, or aspects often included in Social Responsibility, such as employee happiness, sustainability, and health & wellness, were on the list.
As a Small Business Owner, if you aren’t familiar with Social Responsibility upon reading these articles, the first thing that you might do is to head to Google for more information.
As of this blog post, if you search for Small Business Social Responsibility on Google, you’ll see over 3.7 MILLION results.
However, if 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.
Are you wondering how did this go from “Small Business” to “Corporate”?
Simple… Social Responsibility was most widely embraced by Corporations and it became a common term.
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.
So… Where Do Small Businesses Fit into This?
As shown in the articles referenced (and many more), the emphasis on Social Responsibility has been trickling down to Small Businesses more and more in the last few years.
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 aspects but don’t even realize it. For most, they are already doing more than they even realize.
There are a lot of great studies that help to demonstrate WHY Social Responsibility is important. These are just as applicable to Small Businesses as Corporations. (Learn more about the benefits of Social Responsibility in this blog post).
However, what I DON’T think applies for both is HOW Social Responsibility is approached and embraced.
Corporations have larger budgets and more resources to dedicate to Corporate Social Responsibility programs. They can implement very detailed multi-faceted programs that address many or all of the potential Social Responsibility aspects.
And yet… if you look at most of the articles and research available, Small Business Owners are simply advised to implement “CSR” with very little, if any, guidance.
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 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. I’ve been there myself and I’ve talked to dozens of Small Business Owners who feel the same way.
Lack of Training and Support for Small Business Owners
So, what do Small Business Owners do who want to get involved in Social Responsibility but don’t know where to begin?
As a Small Business Owner myself, when I first came up with the concept for Small Actions Greater Good, I started with Google. If you haven’t read my personal origin story, check out my previous blog article (Why I Created Small Actions Greater Good). I’ve had an obsession with Social Responsibility for a long time. But, this was the first time I was considering it from a Small Business perspective.
When I first googled Small Business Social Responsibility and saw all the results recommending Corporate Social Responsibility approaches, I was shocked. But unlike a lot of other Small Business Owners, I had the time to dig through the results. I had a strong familiarity with Corporate Social Responsibility already. And I have an obsession with research.
However, the more I searched and read, the more frustrated I became. The recommendations were so generic. Or too complicated. Or not helpful. Very few made sense for a very busy Small Business Owner.
So I stepped back to reconsider my approach. My professional background is in Project Management, Program Management, Process Improvements, and Corporate Strategy. Translated for people not familiar with these efforts, I am good at finding ways to do projects or improve systems to make them better, faster, and cheaper.
I started by looking for resources that would provide a strategy for Small Business Owners…
- When I Googled “Corporate Social Responsibility Strategy”, I found 157 thousand results.
- When I Googled “Small Business Social Responsibility Strategy”, I found 0 results.
Then I looked for resources that would provide overall guidance for Small Business Owners…
- When I Googled “Corporate Social Responsibility Guidelines”, I found 27.2 thousand results.
- When I Googled “Small Business Social Responsibility Guidelines”, I found 0 results.
Then I looked for tools that could be used by Small Business Owners…
- When I Googled “Corporate Social Responsibility Tools”, I found 4.5 thousand results.
- When I Google “Small Business Social Responsibility Tools”, I found 0 results.
Then I looked for a single definition that I could start with…
- When I Googled “Corporate Social Responsibility Definition”, I found 11.2 thousand results.
- When I Googled “Small Business Social Responsibility Definition”, I found 0 results.
Strike 4. (Wait.. are 4 strikes even possible?)
To me, this was completely unacceptable.
*I use quotations to make sure I’m getting the EXACT results that I am looking for with Google. Hopefully, if you repeat these searches you’ll start seeing some results for Small Businesses – from my website and resources!
Small Actions Greater Good – Filling a Gap
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, which is approximately 46.8% of the private workforce. Most of that employment is by firms with less than 100 people.
And yet, as demonstrated by my searches, most of the information and resources available for Social Responsibility is focused on Corporations.
Just IMAGINE all the possible good if most or all Small Businesses focused some of their energy on Social Responsibility AND if they shared their efforts!!!
I created Small Actions Greater Good to fill a gap in awareness, tools, and resources for 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 the often-limited resources and time available, I don’t think Small Business Owners need to create large programs. Any small actions taken can be a helpful step in the right direction and when combined with the power of other Small Business Owners, the actions can add up to make a huge difference.
I believe that Small Business Social Responsibility deserves its own definition, guidance documents, and recommended strategy.
So I started first with a new definition.
Small Business Social Responsibility = A commitment to contribute to the greater good by efficiently acting as or making changes to your small business that improves the world around you while also effectively contributing to your small business growth.
Important Elements of This New Small Business Social Responsibility Definition
You may now know yet, but I’m obsessed with definitions! I own multiple dictionaries, have at least one app on my phone, and regularly look up words I know and commonly use because I believe that words have meaning. And I want to use them correctly.
My new definition for Small Business Social Responsibility was very carefully written to contain three elements:
1. “A commitment to contribute to the greater good by efficiently acting as or making changes to your small business” – I’m reminding people that Small Business Social Responsibility is something that must be committed to by a Small Business Owner and will be done as part of their business. The use of “efficient” is also intentional as Small Business Owners need to maximize their time and efforts.
2. “that improves the world around you” – I’m being vague ON PURPOSE. This is a reminder there are so many different ways to do good. It’s up to you, as the Small Business Owner, to decide what to do.
3. “while also effectively contributing to your small business growth” – I’m calling attention to the initial concept of Social Responsibility – that a business can be both profitable and do good – as I’ve found that most Small Business Owners neglect this part. The use of “effective” is also very intentional. So much so, that I expand on this in a separate blog.
Do you want to get started?!
A definition is a great place to start, but it still doesn’t tell you WHAT to do.
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 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.
- (This Article) What is Small Business Social Responsibility?
- What is the Small Actions Framework? (A Unique Social Responsibility Approach for Small Businesses)
- How Can You Do Good as a Small Business? (Categories of Social Responsibility)
- Why Should Businesses Be Socially Responsible? (Or More Specifically Small Businesses)
- What Are the Potential Benefits of Social Responsibility?
- What’s Holding You Back? (Social Responsibility in Small Business)
- Doing Good is Good Business (IF You Do It Effectively)
- 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.