When I first founded Okta with Frederic Kerrest, one of the things I really wanted us to do as a company was commit to giving back to the community. We believed that a company staffed with good people that care about one another and their community are, in turn, better teammates.
But if you're a bootstrapped early-stage company with limited time and resources, it can be easy to dismiss corporate social responsibility as something you formalize when you're more established, like we did with Okta for Good this year. But giving back can (and should!) be done at every stage of your growth -- the key is to make sure that doing the right thing is part of your culture and business model.
In my experience, there are several ways startups can engage with their community and benefit as organizations:
1) Encourage a culture of personal responsibility
In the early days of Family House in San Francisco, made it "normal" to take time to go to Family House board meetings and invited early employees to fundraising events. Over time, employees followed suit and felt comfortable sharing their own experiences, taking the time to volunteer with soup kitchens, education nonprofits and more.Okta, we didn't have a robust CSR program, but we could institute one key cultural element: Frederic and I could lead by example. I made sure to note when I had commitments to volunteer with
Giving back has become such a normalized part of Okta's culture that one of the most popular booths at our customer conference was a station where attendees could help fill a backpack for a child starting school (with our customer Teach for America). In a matter of minutes, all 500 backpacks were filled. Bringing everyone together for a common cause was a great point of pride for the team.
2) Unite with your partners
One of the ways you can deepen any customer or partner business relationship is by proposing one focused on social responsibility. For example, we've always had a strong partnership with Box -- from product integrations to encouraging user-centric IT -- but our work together is even more meaningful when we're aligned on an important initiative like ImpactCloud. We recently the Box-led coalition of cloud vendors (including DocuSign, Salesforce.org, Splunk, Tableau and Twilio) to offer Okta products and support to crisis response organizations following a disaster.
Chances are you have partners who are interested in giving back, but don't know how to start. Sharing an initiative can be a great way to work and do the right thing together, thereby creating and even improving a long-term business relationship.
3) Get creative with what you give
Giving time, talent and resources to charitable causes aren't the only ways to give back. In tandem with initiating a CSR-based partnership, you can also join an already established nonprofit campaign.
For example, this year we joined the Pledge 1% corporate philanthropy movement, which is dedicated to making the community a key stakeholder in every business by encouraging companies to give 1% of product, revenue and/or corporate time to charitable causes. Pledge 1% just celebrated its 1,000th pledge and is always looking for additional partners.
4) Use giving back as a way to help build skills
Doing the right thing isn't always easy, and requires advanced problem-solving capabilities. Say you have a financial analyst in your organization that is put in charge of a fundraising effort for a local school. Though they may be comfortable balancing the budget for the event, the skills they learn by building the invite list, building a relationship with the restaurant across the street to donate food and interacting with the parent association helps stretch that analyst's skills. According to the MIT Sloan School of Management Review, "It's skilled people, not processes, that create great products." And who doesn't want a smart, adaptive, involved and purpose-driven teammate?
In conclusion, I truly believe that entrepreneurs can lead the way in incorporating social responsibility into business. It's simply the right thing to do -- and as an added benefit, it builds more engaged, effective teams.