10 things you should know about corporate social responsibility

What's the difference between traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social purpose? If you're a business looking for a charity to support, how do you find the right one? At The Business of Good, experts from businesses and non-profits shared their CSR insights

Credit: This Is It Studios

At the Business of Good networking event, eight experts from companies and non-profits weighed in on how to get CSR right

What’s the difference between traditional corporate social responsibility (CSR) and social purpose? If you’re a business looking for a charity to support, how do you find the right one? At The Business of Good, hosted by BCBusiness, speakers and attendees explored those questions and more.

Anchoring the recent networking event, held at the Civic Hotel, Autograph Collection in Surrey, were two panel discussions. The first, moderated by Darian Kovacs, founding partner of Langley-based Jelly Marketing, featured five guests from businesses and non-profits.

The lineup: Renato Cavaliere, CEO of Burnaby-based Canadian Safe-Step Walk-In Tub Co.; Gerald Miller, president of La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries Vancouver; Ryan Moreno, co-founder and CEO of Surrey-headquartered hospitality company Joseph Richard Group; Nicole Ray, relationship manager with Compassion Canada, a national project that helps children in 25 countries escape poverty; and Kim Wing, development officer, special events, at Covenant House Vancouver, which provides shelter for homeless youth.

BCBusiness editor-in-chief Nick Rockel moderated the second panel, which consisted of David Lanphear, CEO of Langley City–headquartered credit union Envision Financial; Tako van Popta, a partner with law firm Surrey-based law firm McQuarrie Hunter; and Mary Ellen Schaafsma, director of social innovation and research at United Way of the Lower Mainland.

Rockel also announced the launch of the BCBusiness Corporate Social Responsibility Awards, whose winners will be featured in the February 2020 issue of the magazine.

Here are 10 things we learned from the experts.

1. Start by treating your employees well
From the beginning, La-Z-Boy Furniture Galleries committed to paying higher-than-industry wages and offering meaningful benefits, Miller explained. For example, many staff have families, so the company made paid personal days a perk. “It was important for us to start internally and then move out from there,” Miller said.

2. To be a good partner with a charity, look for alignment
“When a business steps up to do something like this, they need to really understand that they align with the organization effectively—that you have the same values, you have the same goals that you want to achieve,” Compassion Canada’s Ray said. “One of the very first steps of corporate social responsibility is understanding what your values are, what your company is about, what your stakeholders want, and then finding an organization that aligns with those types of things.”

3. With power comes responsibility
“Whether you’re running a department, whether you’re running a company, whether you’re running a region, as leader who has means, you have a responsibility to help others,” Safe-Step’s Cavaliere said. “You don’t have a choice.”

4. Give staff opportunities to do good
Joseph Richard Group’s Moreno noted that his company quietly runs a RAK (Random Acts of Kindness) program that lets staff at all of its restaurants and bars cover the bill for a customer who’s having a bad day. If the customer wants to designate a charity, JRG will also match the bill with a donation in their name. “When you to those things internally, the reward is the buy-in and the marketing you get for just being good,” Moreno said. “Doing good is just good business.”

5. Engage the younger crowd
“Millennials and the younger cohort that’s coming up, they’re smart and savvy and they want information,” Covenant House’s Wing said. “They’re going to Google, whether it’s a cause or an organization or how to help homeless youth….And so you want that presence online as well as in person.”

If you’re thinking about partnering with a charity, ask why consumers have chosen you as a brand, Wing advised. “For millennials, it’s potentially because of your community goodwill, and what you do out there locally and internationally in the community reflects who you are as a brand, and that matters to them.”

6. Find your social purpose
United Way’s Schaafsma said that her organization looks at things from a social purpose perspective. “It’s really the next iteration of CSR,” Schaafsma explained. A few years ago, United Way kept hearing from some of its corporate partners that they wanted to do more, she said: “They knew that their business had more to bring than only their philanthropic dollars and their volunteer time, and they wanted to get more deeply involved and bring everything the business has to the table.”

That prompted United Way to discover social purpose, which Schaafsma describes as a business model change. “It’s not a department; it’s not an activity; it’s not a strategy. It’s actually pivoting the business model where a societal purpose becomes its reason for being, and that is what drives everything the business does. It doesn’t change how or what the business does, but it changes how the business does it and puts a whole new lens on what the company is doing that enables it to reap all sorts of business benefits.”

7. Community involvement is good for business
“Our roots are cooperative, so we’re owned by our members, so it’s in our DNA,” Envision’s Lanphear said of CSR. “But the business impacts are real.” People are more and more in tune with where they buy products and services, he observed: “They want to know that what they’re spending their money on is doing good.”

Recently Lanphear got a call from an Envision member who said he’d decided to go with the credit union for an $11.25-million loan, even though a bank had made a bigger offer with a lower interest rate. His motivation: “I love what you guys do in the community; I love how involved you are.”

8. CSR can help attract talent
McQuarrie Hunter’s van Popta pointed out that his firm expects some benefit from its charitable giving, which includes support for two hospital foundations. “We get a lot of public profile out of it, but probably the most important thing is that it makes us attractive to hiring millennials who are just coming out of law school,” he said. “This is important to them. They want to belong to an organization that has a sense and a purpose other than just being good lawyers.”

Having an opportunity to sit on boards and committees is also important to McQuarrie’s lawyers, van Popta said. “Writing a cheque is the easy thing, but getting involved with the organization that you want to support is a bigger challenge.”

9. Have a long-term goal—and reap the rewards
“This isn’t flavour-of-the month or a quick strategy,” Lanphear said. Build engagement with your employees, and pick a cause that resonates with them and your customer base, he suggested. “I would say that companies with a CSR or social impact vision will perform better,” Lanphear added. “Your employees get behind this, and they’re more productive.”

10. Focus on a social issue where you can make a difference
“Look at who your business is, what it does and what are the societal trends going on—either or both—that will impact on your business or that your business has a unique ability to impact upon,” Schaafsma said. “If you’re bringing your whole business to the right social issue, your impact is elevated and magnified, because you’re bringing what it’s best at…to the table, too.”