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Why Should Businesses Be Socially Responsible? (Or More Specifically Small Businesses)

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Written By Tanya Quinn


Updated: March 27, 2024

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Why should businesses be socially responsible?” is a question that I get asked a LOT. And apparently, so does Google if you look at their search data.

I could answer with lots of details about how being socially responsible can benefit your business (and I do in a separate blog post) or how it helps the world around us.

But the quick, easy and honest answer is: 

A business should not be socially responsible.

But it's not what you think. Stick with me.

That Question is Not the Right One

A business should not be socially responsible. Not because social responsibility isn't worthwhile or valuable. It's wonderful. The problem is in the question itself.

The error is with “SHOULD.”

Do you like it when people say you “should” do this… or you “should” do that?

Doesn't it feel like being scolded or chastised? And “should” is almost always said negatively.

I could quickly go off on a tangent and write about why not to use “should,” but there's no need. There are countless articles published already. Here are two of my favorites with a business emphasis:

For me, saying “should” indicates something I feel obligated to do. Which doesn't feel good, nor does it motivate me.

Now, let's reframe the question from “Why should businesses be socially responsible?” to… 

Why Do You Want To Be a Socially Responsible Business?

Why restate it this way?

Because let's face it, Small Business Owners are BUSY! If we don't WANT to do something, what's the likelihood that we will?!?!

Recent studies from Fundera and SCORE (links at the end of the blog) show that most Small Business Owners work more hours for their business than if they worked for someone else, which didn't surprise me as a Small Business Owner. And, I doubt you need a study to tell you that either.

But, these studies have some interesting statistics if you dig deeper. Even when Small Business Owners are working more hours and sometimes making less money,

  • 92% do not regret starting their business; and
  • 70% enjoy running their business more than anything else they have done.

Why? Because most Small Business Owners are incredibly passionate about their businesses! We put our hearts and souls into what we do, and the extra hours are worth it. In my case, those extra hours of “work” don't even feel like work.

But no matter how many extra hours we put into our business, it's improbable that we'll give the time and resources to something we “should” do.

How Are You Motivated?

Therefore, the answer to the questions “Why Should Businesses Be Socially Responsible?” or “Why Do You Want To Be a Socially Responsible Business?” will only be found inside you.

It's a personal decision whether YOU, as the Business Owner, want to make it a priority.

No matter how much it may benefit your business.

The decision simply comes down to whether you are motivated to dedicate the time and resources to make changes to your business that benefit the greater good.

While creating the Small Actions Framework, I did hundreds of hours of research and interviewed dozens of Small Business Owners.

No matter how many studies or articles I've read or how many times I talk to Small Business Owners when asked “WHY Do You Want to Do Social Good?” the answers fall into TWO overall reasons:

Internal Motivations = A Small Business Owner is naturally motivated and WANTS to do more or is concerned with the world around them and NEEDS to do more. Their “should,” or their motivation comes from within them. 

External Expectations = A Small Business Owner is paying attention to business trends and research showing how consumers AND the employees are EXPECTING and DEMANDING more. Their “should,” or their motivation, comes from the marketplace.

As the Small Business Owner, the ultimate decision to embrace Social Responsibility comes down to what YOU consider important and whether you have the time or resources to commit to becoming a socially responsible business.

It's something you CHOOSE to do. It isn't something you “should” do.

But let's go a little deeper and look at the individual motivations within these two categories to see which resonates with you.

Motivation Category 1: Fulfills Internal Motivations

Many business owners, myself included, have a natural internal motivation for Social Responsibility or a desire to make a difference. Therefore, they naturally ask, “How Can I Make a Difference in the World Around Me?”. Most Social Entrepreneurs fall into this category.

The source of that motivation may be a positive driver, such as a Business Owner with a philanthropic personality who WANTS to contribute more. Or, the source could be a negative driver, such as a Business Owner who is afraid of the changes happening in the world and feels a strong NEED to fight back. And in many cases, a Business Owner may feel both.

Whether Business Owners are driven by a positive or negative motivation, incorporating socially responsible actions into their businesses is a way to meet these personal needs through their business instead of giving up often limited personal or family time.

Common positive internal motivations include:

  • Doing good simply feels good or makes me happy.
  • I believe in putting positive energy into the universe (and receiving it in return).
  • I want to be a role model or set a positive example for my family or community.
  • I need to create a better world for my children and grandchildren.
  • I hope to be an inspiration to other Business Owners.

Common negative internal motivations include:

  • I want to feel less guilty about the amount of time/energy I put into my business (that keeps me away from my family).
  • I'm scared of what we are doing to the Earth and need to help make changes.
  • I'm doing too much outside of my business (I can switch to making a difference through the business).

Motivation Category #2: Meets External Expectations

You may also be motivated by external expectations from your stakeholders.

“Stakeholders” are people with interests, expectations, or concerns in the activities of a business. For most Small Businesses, the primary stakeholders are the business owner(s), the customers/clients, the employees, the suppliers, if applicable, and sometimes the community as a whole.

As shown by multiple studies in the last few years, Social Responsibility is no longer an expectation of only large corporations. Instead, consumers and employees expect that ALL businesses contribute more.

For example:

  • 63% of Americans are “hopeful businesses will take the lead to drive social and environmental change going forward.” This jumps to 71% for Millennials only. (Cone Communications, 2017 CSR Study)
  • 70% of Americans “believe companies have an obligation to take actions to improve issues that may not be relevant to everyday business operations.” (Cone Communications, 2017 CSR Study)
  • 73% of consumers “would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.” (Nielson Global Sustainable Shoppers Report, 2018)
  • “64% of Millennials consider a company's social and environmental commitments when deciding where to work”. (Cone Communications, 2016 Millennial Employee Engagement Study). Note that Millennials are estimated to be 50% of the workforce by 2020.

What you do impacts HOW consumers see you, WHAT they talk about, WHETHER they return to shop with you, and more. Employees are now CHOOSING to interview for or leave a company based on the actions of that business.

Why Is This Important To Understand?

If you aren't personally motivated to make a change to your business, you won't make it a priority. You won't put the time and energy into completing it. Understanding your motivations provides the drive and the passion for completing your efforts. It's as simple as that.

Understanding and accepting your motivations is also a component of the Small Actions Framework (my unique approach to Small Business Social Responsibility).

Do the reasons above cover your interest in Social Responsibility? Email me back if you have another reason I haven't included.

And the next time you hear someone say, “Why should businesses be socially responsible? “, help spread my message. Answer “THEY SHOULDN'T” and then explain why they may WANT to instead.

About This Content

This article is part 3 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. 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. (This Article) 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


On a separate and yet related note… “SHOULD” is not only bad for your business, it's bad for your personal life. It's a word I have almost completely eliminated from my vocabulary and that I'm very careful to avoid using around my daughter.

Here's a fabulous podcast to learn a bit more.

“Don't ‘Should' on Yourself: Why Disappointing Others is the Key to a Fully Expressed Life” by Carrie Wren.

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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