Customers have been shown to spend more on businesses seen to support charitable and community projects, while having a sense of purpose energises employees, and this can spark innovation.
Cyan Ta’eed is the executive director of multi-million dollar digital marketplace Envato, a business she started out of her parents’ garage.
Ta’eed says we’ve moved on from the time when business was driven solely by its bottom line.
“We’ve been relying on government for a long time to fix things and are dissatisfied when it doesn’t happen,” she says.
“Businesses need to evolve from supporting shareholders to supporting whole communities… and I believe a lot of the drivers for social impact comes from employees.”
When your workforce wants to get involved, and your community needs you to get involved, there are a myriad of ways businesses can make a positive social impact, it’s about finding the one the works for you.
Start a Social Enterprise
Ta’eed founded her own social enterprise Hey Tiger, a specialty chocolate company that partners with not-for-profits such as The Hunger Project to positively impact cocoa farming communities in West Africa.
Owned by a charitable trust, Hey Tiger only uses ethically sourced chocolate and it donates a proportion of chocolate sales to help fund community development projects. Ta’eed doesn’t draw a salary.
A self-confessed chocoholic, her advice is to do something you are passionate about, partner with those you trust, and scale the enterprise at its own pace.
“There’s always a danger when people go in too ambitious that they can do more harm than good,” she says.
She recommends for-profit businesses that want to make more of an impact consider going through the process of becoming B Corp certified.
Individually, B Corps must meet high standards of social and environmental performance, transparency and legal accountability. Collectively they are part of a global movement of ‘people using business as a force for good’.
Be community minded
One of the keys to getting it right when you set out to have greater social impact is to find something that aligns with your core business purpose and values. Do what you know.
For Telstra’s philanthropic arm, the Telstra Foundation, the focus is on helping young people thrive in their digital world. It’s a cause they believe in and have the expertise to implement.
They do this by building digital skills in classrooms and libraries, providing training and grants to non-profits so they can realise their digital dreams, and supporting digital programs that deliver benefits to diverse and disadvantaged young people.
Jackie Coates heads the Telstra Foundation. She says although the charity receives $6 million a year from Telstra, the foundation was not set up to generate sales or innovate Telstra products but to make the lives of young people better, particularly those who are living with a disability, mental ill-health or living in regional or remote communities.
She believes as humans we are hard-wired to look after each other. Telstra research has found its employees want a sense of purpose to their labour.
“Telstra is an iconic company, we are a trusted brand, so for us this is about leveraging our resources in communities – our time, our talent and our treasure -to help everybody thrive in this connected world we live in,” says Coates.
“We focus on not-for-profits, with an aim of supporting the sector to explore and drive digital innovation for social impact - a sector we think has an even greater potential to make a difference.”
But you don’t have to be a big business to have a big impact.
Whitsundays based yacht hire company, Cumberland Charter Yachts, has about 20 employees yet together they bring many benefits to their small close-knit community.
Marketing manager Mercedes Ireland says projects with an environmental focus are particularly close to their heart.
They’re members of the Tourism and Recreation Reef Advisory Committee helping protect the Great Barrier Reef and marine park for future use and donate financial and human resources to the not-for-profit Eco-Barge service which travels around the islands collecting marine debris.
They’ve also donated money to help the Volunteer Marine Rescue restore new communication towers following Cyclone Debbie and any dry foods left behind by their guests at the end of a charter are collected and donated to the local Neighbourhood Centre for families in need.
Ireland says businesses should seek out windows of opportunity to get involved.
“Often it does require very little financial outlay but the benefits can be significant,” she says.
“When you get out of the office and do other things you are networking and identifying opportunities that can help benefit your business and alliances.
“It is important to make good connections with the people around you because when there is a time of need – like we had with Cyclone Debbie – it is those community connections that help put the town back in its feet.”
At Teachers Mutual Bank Limited, employees are actively encouraged to donate their time for a greater cause.
The bank’s Head of Human Resources, Marco Sicurella, says employees are entitled to one paid volunteer leave day a year.
He admits when it was first brought in the uptake was small, but when the company decided to facilitate team volunteering opportunities - such as tree planting days for Greening Australia - interest grew significantly.
The company also partners with international aid agency CUFA to provide Children’s Financial Literacy education programs in rural Cambodia to break the cycle of poverty.
It also runs a Village Entrepreneur micro-enterprise program to build business skills in the poorest Cambodian communities bringing improved health and educational outcomes.
In addition to financial support for CUFA, Teachers Mutual Bank Limited funds staff to go to Cambodia to witness the outcomes and impact of the partnership with their own eyes.
These initiatives come at a financial cost, but according to Sicurella, ‘you can’t put a price on advocacy’.
“The word spreads,” he says.
“We get a lot of people coming to us from the big banks for that work-life balance because we are still true to that original community ethos on which we were founded.”
Where do I start?
One of the main challenges for businesses who encourage their employees to volunteer, is to help their employee find suitable volunteer opportunities.
SEEK Volunteer’s Employee Volunteer Portal connects employees with opportunities, helping them find a meaningful way to contribute to the community whilst improving employee engagement in the business.