Six steps for developing a corporate social responsibility programme

What is corporate social responsibility (CSR) and why does it matter? Marcus Hayes MBE, former vice chair of our Small Firms Network committee, highlights the benefits of setting up a CSR programme in your business.
Two professionals stand in a courtyard talking and smiling
Photograph: Drazen_

“Do good, have fun and the money will come,” is one of Sir Richard Branson’s better-known quotes.

Despite a demanding business environment, more and more small law firms are setting up programmes to make a difference, give back to their communities and support charitable causes.

Although the founding principle of philanthropy is a desire to make a difference, there is also a good business case for getting involved.

A good CSR programme can engage staff and clients and raise your firm’s profile – all of which can contribute to future business growth.

What is corporate social responsibility?

CSR is a business practice that looks beyond profit-making to ways businesses can operate that enhance society.

This may look different for different organisations.

Larger businesses may have the resources to spend millions on social mobility initiatives, while smaller firms may be able to offer a student from a disadvantaged background a week of work experience.

No step is too small. If you are a small business owner, there are some simple steps you can take to reap the benefits of CSR.

How to develop a CSR strategy

A good CSR strategy will be aligned to the values of your business and complement the work you do.

It can be as basic as a personal injury firm fundraising for the local hospital or a sole practitioner offering pro bono legal advice to a Citizens Advice Centre.

This can help to enhance your reputation within your community and generate profit by helping your firm to stand out and attract new business.

1. Identify what you want to achieve with staff

Developing your strategy with colleagues, whatever level they work at, is incredibly important.

By giving your staff the opportunity to contribute, you’ll be supporting them to develop new capabilities and add to existing learning and expertise. This is invaluable for their personal and professional development.

Discussing how your business can give back to your local community, cause or charity with colleagues will also ensure your programme is a collective endeavour.

This approach will be integral to embedding your programme’s aims and ambitions across your business and make a significant contribution to its development and growth.

It will not only benefit day-to-day operations but ensure your organisation has a motivated and engaged workforce.

2. Be authentic

If you create a programme purely as a promotional tool for your firm, it will not be supported and could ultimately backfire.

I have always had a genuine belief in what I wanted my business to achieve, because it was right and responsible and could change lives.

3. Look for ways to collaborate

Be collaborative: any small business does not have the time and resources to go it alone.

Working with your clients, a chosen charity, suppliers or stakeholders will all help to create a larger initiative that will have a greater impact.

Working in partnership will afford your business the opportunity to focus your energy and resources in the right areas.

Cross-sector collaboration will not only create rich insights and expertise from the organisations you work with, but will also provide space to learn best practices that will ultimately benefit your business.

4. Allocate your time and resources

Once you have decided what you want to concentrate on, it’s vital that you manage the resources your business must dedicate to it.

At the outset, determine what time you and your workforce can give to your CSR initiative and what budget you are prepared to allocate to it.

5. Keep track of industry news

When you know how and to whom you would like to make a difference, keep track of industry news so you can act on opportunities when they arise.

For example, if you have pledged to support a charity, arrange to meet its fundraising manager regularly or subscribe to its newsletter.

6. Shout about your success

Your CSR strategy is about harnessing goodwill and making a difference.

However, if you market it well, it will have a positive impact on the perception of your business and generate new clients.

It will help your business enhance its brand and corporate reputation both by sharing your CSR story and demonstrating a commitment to the work you are undertaking.

From my own experience, when clients instruct my firm, they are keen to explore what our CSR programme does, why we do it and how we do it.

That business culture clearly resonates and has contributed to persuading clients to take part in our programme and to keep providing new instructions because of our ethos, culture and vision.

I want to know more

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Pro bono is a vital part of the working lives of many solicitors. Our introduction to pro bono guide sets out why it matters and how you can get involved.

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