The 2018 Cox Business Consumer Pulse on Small Businesses survey polled 1,100 consumers and found that 71 percent of people who responded said they would spend more money at a small business if it supported a positive social or environmental cause.
Sixty-eight percent of survey participants said small business should openly promote the causes they champion. But, be warned, over half of respondents also said they would stop supporting a small business if it supported a cause that wasn't in agreement with their own social or environmental views.
I've long been an advocate of small businesses supporting positive social and environmental causes. My own businesses regularly hold charity runs and pack food hampers among other charitable events. And we're definitely not alone in that. Nearly half of business owners in a 2017 survey from Allstate Insurance Company and USA Today said they contribute to local charities and perform community service in their areas.
For small businesses that want to do good in the world and also increase their revenue in the best possible way, they should heed these three tips:
1. Know your audience and choose your cause wisely.
As stated above, while consumers want small businesses to support social and environmental causes, they want these companies to support the ones they, the consumers, also back. To avoid falling afoul of your customers, you need to know them well enough to gauge what they would be for and/or against.
Sometimes this is fairly easy. If you sell outdoor adventure gear and one of your selling points is that all of your stores have at least a Gold Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating, there's a good chance your customers will appreciate you supporting any kind of environmental cause, even one that may involve protesting something.
Since my and my wife's companies sell drug testing kits, we mostly concentrate on helping the homeless because a big part of our business is helping people with addiction and addiction is something that affects many homeless people.
2. If you're not sure, pick something safe.
There are many social and environmental causes that are "safe bets" if you are not sure about what your consumers would support. Probably the safest is to raise money to help fight a disease. The disease itself doesn't really matter. Most people would be willing to get behind fighting a disease that negatively affected people's lives, no matter what it is.
Likewise, most general environmental initiatives like saving the oceans or focusing on local environmental movements, for example, would probably be safe, as long as it doesn't involve any kind of protest. Anything that involves a protest means there is a group that is being protested against. So, a good rule of thumb is to avoid any causes that involve a protest unless you're absolutely certain your customers would be on one specific side of it like in the above example.
If you are in any doubt as to what your core audience would like to see you support, you can always do a bit of research in the form of a survey to see what they prefer. They'll likely be appreciative that their opinions are being sought, which will buy you some goodwill with them, too. You can also ask your employees. They would probably enjoy having some input into the decision.
3. Draw up a list of company values that will help you make decisions.
Sometimes a business is forced to make a decision about an issue and doing nothing is seen as taking a side in that issue. The most obvious recent example of that is businesses that were somehow connected to the National Rifle Association (NRA) having to choose if they wanted to keep that connection or not in light of recent protests against the organization.
When outside forces thrust a decision like this upon a business, it helps to have a list of values for your company that can help you make the decision. Obviously you'll also want to consider what your core customer base would likely do, but your decision shouldn't just be one of economics. Even a business should have a "conscience" and a set of values and beliefs that can help guide it when faced with these kinds of decisions. Know what you believe in and make your decision accordingly.
There is no social or environmental cause that every single person will get behind (even the safe ones), so supporting them does come with some inherent risk. But, as business founders, we are used to taking risks. Don't be afraid to have a voice and stand behind your principles. It may even bump up your revenue if you choose wisely.