It is not only admirable, but a smart business decision to start a new business with a socially responsible bent. However, the incorporation of a CSR element in the start-up is the easy part. Maintaining and sustaining it is much more difficult.
In working with a start up granola bar company in San Francisco, I have been inspired by its founding belief that everyone deserves pure, simple food. To deliver on that mission, our partner company donates a percentage of its finished products to local inner-city schools to ensure children have nutritious snacks and are learning about healthy nutrition.
But inspiration doesn’t necessarily translate into business value. And business value is important for long term sustainability. In order for our client, and other start-ups to effectively incorporate CSR into its business and ensure its long term viability, it must be able to answer these three key questions:
- Why does it make sense for the company to continue to support the program at the expense of selling more product?
- What is the financial return the program generates in terms of dollars and sense?
- How will they think about building out the program as the company grows?
Answering these questions will set our client up for long-term success in several ways. First, it will be able to effectively communicate its healthy snack program story in a way that differentiates the brand and creates a favorable brand image. Building the brand image through socially responsible values and practices is a way for our client to speak to and engage potential financers, suppliers, distribution partners and customers on a level that others cannot offer. In this way, CSR can be a very effective and convincing value proposition.
Once our start-up client has crafted a compelling story, establishing metrics to track and measure the CSR program will ground the story in facts, as well as help guide the program’s future. Metrics should capture both the financial and social impact of the program to show bottom line results while ensuring the program continues to align with the overall mission of the company. However the metrics are defined, they should support the story and be clear benchmarks to direct the future development of the program.