One of the most encouraging developments in business in recent years has been a move toward Social Enterprise. This term implies your business, big or small, agrees to do more than just pursue profit margin by contributing in some way to the betterment of your community, or the world.
On the grand scale Bill Gates is a great example; he gives away hundreds of millions of dollars of Microsoft profits to the mission of eradicating malaria. In the case of small businesses it might be highly localized; contributing small amounts of cash or services in kind to the local food bank, or to agencies helping the homeless.
In addition to the feel-good factor, being a social entreprise makes good busines sense. The well-known saying "doing well by doing good" indicates that once you have decided where to spend your time, money or skills in helping others, your customers and clients will respond to your initiative by patronizing your business.
Once you've embarked on a path to help your community via social enterprise, don't be afraid to let your market (and media) know what you're doing. This isn't just about bragging. The publicity will help the agency or cause that you support to gain awareness, which in turn increases contributions from others. Also, don't be afraid to invite your customers to join your cause. Your business Facebook site can be an important communications tool to publicize your social commitment, whether it's promoting local foods, or locally made products, or helping the Rotary Club in its worldwide mission to eliminate polio.
Consider posting a 5-point statement in your store, or in the reception area of your business. You will often see this application in coffee shops, proud of their commitment to buy Fair Trade coffee and to recycle.
In making a commitment to contribute time or money to good causes, how much is too much? Remember, your main responsibility is to yourself, your family and investors so don't get carried away. Consider earmarking about 5 per cent of the company income, or time, to social enterprises. If you don't set a goal, it's too easy to drift into doing more to the detriment of the company. Once you are seen as being socially aware, you may get a large number of requests from good causes. Your best strategy is to tell them that you set aside a fixed portion of income for social enterprise per year and if that figure has already been reached, tell them if they would send you a letter of request, you will consider it in next year's budget.
It has been shown that it does make a difference to your customers. In a recent study across Canada, 70 per cent of people under 35 said that they would prefer to give their business to companies that demonstrated a social conscience.
Being socially aware doesn't mean losing focus on making your business profitable. Anita Roddick, international businesswoman and human rights activist, became a multi millionaire in her global business, the Body Shop, by offering skin products that were not tested on animals and at the same time supporting locally made goods produced in small African villages.
This can be a win-win: you'll attract loyal customers; you'll attract motivated employees; you'll gain media attention; and you'll sleep better at night, knowing you are making a difference.