SMEs have the misconception that charitable activities are too costly to even consider implementing. However, this cannot be further from the truth. Impactful Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) need not always take the form of large cash donations from big firms with high working capital.
Over 700 companies were surveyed in the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre’s (NVPC) inaugural Corporate Giving Survey. Out of which, more than half are engaged in corporate giving, and a further 31 per cent expressed an interest to start. This article can be a good starting point for SMEs keen on doing good.
- Cash donations are not always good
While cash donations provide flexibility for charitable organisations, it may risk being transactional if there is no other meaningful interactions that accompany the cash donation. When the firm is emotionally or strategically disconnected, corporate philanthropy budgets can become highly scrutinized. Over time, it may even risk being cut out entirely by the management during poor economic times. Ironically, it is during such periods of time in which the poor or the less fortunate will need help the most. As such, cash donations alone may become difficult to sustain over time.
In addition, the popularity of cash donations may have led to a narrowing of definitions of how companies can contribute. SMEs, in particular, may prefer volunteering instead. For instance, advocating a cause, offering venue facilities, donating goods, or volunteering their time is, too, a form of CSR effort.
- Staff can be willing to volunteer
Some SMEs also have the misconception that their staff will be unwilling to fork out time to volunteer as this is not part of their job scope. However, when asked about their attitudes towards giving, nine in ten Singaporeans displayed a strong intent to donate, and seven in ten Singaporeans intend to volunteer.
Furthermore, working adults are an untapped pool of potential volunteers. Although 58 per cent of all working adults are keen to volunteer, only 33 per cent said that their employers organised volunteering activities within the past 12 months. This reveals a gap between what the employees want, and what is actually provided. SMEs may want to review their assumptions about their staff by doing a quick internal poll or survey before deciding whether or not to roll out volunteering initiatives. In such exercises, SMEs can also find a common lull period to organise volunteering activities that their staff are interested in.
- Volunteering improves employee engagement
By reminding and providing employees with the opportunity to contribute to society, SMEs can better engage employees on a deeper level. In fact, 66 per cent of corporate givers that engaged in volunteerism were motivated by the positive knock-on effects for staff morale. This can translate into benefits relating to recruitment, leadership development and staff retention, and more. Such initiatives, when timed right and arranged well, can increase staff engagement, thereby injecting a healthy work culture.
In fact, according to NVPC’s survey, 64 per cent of corporate givers in Singapore have integrated giving into their business functions. Out of which 28 per cent of it is in staff development.
- Doing good is not only for non-profit organisations
Many SMEs believe in the myth that doing good does not result in business benefits. CSR is often misunderstood as an endeavour that will take up time and resources, yet generate little or no returns on investment. It is hence unsurprising why the adoption rate is low.
However, this is not true. Research shows that the more SMEs give to charity, the better their business performs. 43 per cent of firms surveyed proceeded with their charity activities as it supported their business model. By selecting an activity that is closely aligned with the vision and mission of your SME, workplace culture can be better managed as well.
While SMEs typically need to spend time addressing daily challenges to keep the business up and running, they can gain from being serious about sustainability. Examining existing standards such as the Global Reporting Initiative and looking at parts which are relevant to their business can be helpful. Ignoring sustainability-related risks is not the best way forward in an SME’s expansion.
Instead of running independent programmes in which individuals have disconnected action, SMEs can slowly build towards a collaborative platform in which its employee gather to do good for the society through a unified experience. Over time, collaborations with other SMEs can also take place to form enabled communities.
- There is no need to start from scratch
Long gone are the days in which SMEs need to reach out to individual organisations to source for CSR activities. Now, platforms such as Giving.sg has almost 200, 000 users making a difference. With over 155 million raised for charities, it has supported over 530 registered charities. On the same site, a whole bunch of volunteer projects and fundraisers from various charities are also readily available. Created and powered by NVPC, Giving.sg has a vision to build a City of Good, and aims to focus on all the good that we can do.
Co.lab community makers also brings stakeholders together to discover common needs and opportunities, agree on shared outcome, and build collaborative solutions. Volunteers can be trained first before helping others.
SMEs can also look at platforms such as SGCares, which is a national movement to foster a more caring, compassionate and inclusive society. With a series of causes available, SMEs can easily find something relatable and relevant to contribute towards. SMEs can even challenge themselves by starting a ground up activity.
- SMEs can still start something from scratch
That said, SMEs with a clear aim and strong focus on a specific type of CSR activity should not hesitate to reach out to the organisation directly. For instance, an SME selling pet products and services such as pet grooming kits or pet insurance services can connect with animal shelters for synergy. Examples of shelters include Acres Wildlife Rescue Center, Action For Singapore Dogs, Causes For Animals Singapore, Mutts and Mittens, Oasis Second Chance Animal Shelter, Save Our Street Dogs, SPCA, and more.
In the scenario above, SMEs can donate relevant products or perform services that are in demand by the charity organisations. This is a good volunteer and beneficiary match.
- Seek inspiration from local SMEs
Just as how creativity and innovation are important for business success, they are also the secret sauce behind a well-executed CSR initiative. Here are three case studies from entirely different industries that SMEs can seek inspiration from when brainstorming about the different approaches to doing good.
- The Mindful Company
Social enterprise, The Mindful Company, collaborates with charities to create products with inspiring messages around mental wellness. Through numerous projects, the firm has raised over SGD19, 000 for the Singapore Association of Mental Health (SAMH) and over SGD4, 000 for Samaritans of Singapore. Its recent Charity Collection 2019 which aims to celebrate the journey through life has also been launched in partnership with Samaritans of Singapore and Stroke Support Station. Designed aptly based on four themes, the bracelets signify resilience, hope, friendship and individual uniqueness.
- Happy Marketer
A digital marketing agency, Happy Marketer focuses on doing good via knowledge transfers. It provides a combination of pro bono training and digital consulting services to help organisations such as the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD) and Dialogue in the Dark.
Through its pro bono clients, the small agency has been referred to other corporate clients, which allowed the agency to obtain a commercial gain. Employees could also upgrade their skills during the pro bono process which doubled as a form of training.
A local furniture retailer SME, Commune, uses costlier and high quality materials that has a lower level of formaldehyde (a harmful gas) and lead content. This translates to both the customers’ and craftsmen’s safety. Sustainability is also practised from end to end, all the way from sourcing from sustainable forests, to production and business practices.
The company sells lifestyle products by The Art Faculty by Pathlight, an autism-focused school, to allow consumers to make meaningful purchase decisions while shopping for furniture. On top of that, it also works with the North-East Community Development Council and Young NTUC on Project Refresh to improve the living environment of the less fortunate through furniture upgrades and refurbishment works.
- Charitable efforts aid in positive branding
Regardless of the industry that your SME is operating it, and regardless of it being a B2C, B2B or B2G company, good CSR initiatives will always improve brand image. When communicated across on various social media sites, it can double as a great form of engagement for your followers as well. Of course, firms will need to first know the best social media platforms for their business to maximise the benefits.
According to NVPC’s survey, out of the 64 per cent of corporate givers in Singapore who have integrated giving into their business functions. 28 per cent of it lies in marketing and branding. There is even a new award to celebrate SME’s CSR initiatives. Dubbed ‘Brands for Good’, the award provides recognition to firms that have championed sustainable and inclusive economic goals, social development and environmental protection. By staying updated on CSR news, SMEs will be better able to tap on CSR as a marketing tool as well.
With SMEs making up more than 90 per cent of the enterprises in Singapore, it is crucial for them to understand the intricacies behind CSR. SMEs need not take up business loans or be engaged in business financing options such as P2P lending to afford CSR activities. As discussed above, it can be an almost cost free exercise that improves brand image and engages employees on a deeper level.