How to Give your Startup a Conscience

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It’s pretty clear that all businesses should have a mandate to do good. Still, it’s the how that continues to be a challenge. Many companies struggle with how to integrate a social mission in a meaningful way.

I often hear the challenge that business who adopt a “business as a force for good” philosophy will incur a substantial cost to the business.  In fact, the opposite is often true. An authentic social mission is a proven tactic for attracting and retaining employees, a key factor in consumer purchasing decisions and a strong brand differentiator. A solid strategy and well executed plan will far outweigh its investment and any ongoing associated costs.

As a startup, you have the luxury of building your business with a mission in mind, allowing you to fully integrate your social mandate into the business from the ground up. To build an effective strategy, treat it as you would any other area of the business; connected to the whole and effective on its own.

Here are some tools to develop a Social Good strategy that will benefit the business and the world it operates in.

Connect to what matters.

The best plans are ones that have a logical link to the business. Choose something that has a connection to your product, your team or your community.

Find an issue that your business touches in some way — and find a way to support it financially and operationally. Selecting a cause relevant to your business means it will also be relevant to your customers and your team members — providing opportunities for meaningful connections. The more relevant the cause, the more built-in channels you’ll have to support it.

Get smart about it.

To support any cause in a meaningful way, you need to understand it. Get familiar with the issues and opportunities so you can be a true champion. Understand the landscape, the key players, the needs and the current resources. Speak knowledgeably about what you’re doing and why it matters, inspiring others and cementing your own standing as a credible change-maker. 

Having a solid understanding of the bigger picture will help you make smarter decisions across all areas of the business and spot potential opportunities you might have otherwise missed.

Integrate it.

Effective Social Good programs don’t operate in a vacuum. To make the most of your social efforts, integrate them into as many areas of the business as you can. Look at each functional area of the business for opportunities. Can your tech team develop a custom fundraising platform? Can your marketing department handle social media for your charitable partners?

Enable your employees to help make decisions to maximize engagement.

Don’t go it alone.

As much as you’ll learn, you’ll never be top expert in the field, so partner with someone who is. Find out who’s doing the best work in the area and enlist their help from the get-go. Your efforts will be more effective if you work with people who can advise you on where you’ll have the most impact and how to use your resources most effectively. 

Finding community partners will also help strengthen the profile and credibility of your efforts. Community partners are both a strategic partner and a bridge to other major players in the field.

Measure it.

There are a lot of parallels between regular business operations and your Social Good strategy. Just as you monitor results across multiple areas of the company, you should be doing the same with your social efforts. This goes beyond the amount of money raised or donated. The actual impact is much more important. If you’ve donated a million dollars to wildlife rescue, how many animals did you save? How many kilometres of beach did you clean up?

Tracking actual impact lets you see where your money and time is the most effective, allowing you to shift your strategy as appropriate to make the biggest impact. Leverage your community partners to help you here.

Make it BIG and real.

Being a good corporate citizen means you also take responsibility for your business footprint and make decisions based on what’s best for the planet, not just the bottom line. Watch that your progress in one area isn’t overshadowed by carelessness in another. Programs that exist simply to ‘check the box’ are easy to spot – and consumers have wised up to businesses who talk the talk but have little impact on the causes they support. 

Don’t be afraid to think big. If you’re starting a business, you’re already taking a giant leap, believing you can change an industry and disrupt a category. Apply that same bravery to your social mission.

If you can build a business, you can change the world. So why wouldn’t you?

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