Building a Better Company: 3 Ways ‘Giving Back’ Helped Our Startup Scale
The Reputation Institute recently released the 2017 Global CSR RepTrak® 100 report, ranking the corporate social responsibility (CSR) of the world’s leading companies. With annual profits surpassing tens of billions of dollars, global giants are keen to show the public that they are giving something back.
But while it would be nice to think this comes from the goodness of their hearts, demonstrating social responsibility is proven to boost brand trust, loyalty and in turn sales. Seventy-seven percent of Millennials state they are willing to spend more on a product if it comes from a sustainable brand and 81 percent expect companies to make a public commitment to good corporate citizenship.
Based on our experiences building a socially responsible business, with a social project called Africa’s Got Digital Talent, we have found that our mission to give back has helped our company tremendously. Here are three ways that giving back can help a startup scale:
Bringing on Talent
Building the best possible team can be challenging for early-stage startups with limited resources, especially when competing with larger companies for in-demand professionals like developers and data analysts.
Luckily, Millennials are less driven by salaries than previous generations. In a recent Forbes article, author John Zogby argues that Millennials are willing to settle for lower wages, if they empathise with the aims and values of the company, and feel they will be able to grow professionally and personally during their time there. In fact, he says 85 percent of Millennials want work that not only enriches themselves, but also the world.
For this reason, it is important to publicize your social projects on your website or social channels, but also mention it on job adverts too. We found that by sharing our social mission — to offer equal employment opportunities for people in Africa — as well as our company’s big mission, we attracted exactly the sort of hard working, socially minded people we wanted to work with.
Another option is to use hiring as a way to give back, by involving people from the local community and offering internships. As part of our ‘Africa’s Got Digital Talent’ program, we offer internships to talented young people from some of the world’s top universities, but also those from disadvantaged backgrounds who might not have the chance otherwise.
From our side, launching an internship gave us a steady flow of talent, many of whom came on to work with our company as full time members after finishing their internships. Having a steady supply of agile, bright, enthusiastic young minds also leads to a lot of creative ideas, and gives us the wavelength to experiment and innovate by allowing these interns to start their own projects. There is much more space to ‘fail fast, fail often’ when you are not paying full salaries.
PR and advertising
In the increasingly saturated startup world, in which millions of eager companies are pitching their ideas to the same handful of leading publications, it can be hard to stick your head above the crowd to reach journalists and consumers. But it is difficult to scale, if no one knows about you.
We have found that including our social projects in our messaging on our website and social channels, but also in our pitches and press releases to the media, has increased interest and improved visibility. In the modern age of fake news, consumers and journalists want to look past the cover page of your company. A big part of this comes down to your company values and CSR efforts.
A recent study by Label Insight found that almost 94 percent of all consumers are more likely to be loyal to a brand when it commits to full transparency. Another study by Cone Communications and Echo Research revealed that more than 90 percent of consumers would switch to a brand which actively supports a humanitarian or environmental cause.
In a recent Forbes article Wes Gay argues that Millennial consumers and employees alike are extremely engaged by stories linked to social responsibility. Use social media, community channels and newsletters to keep your community up to date with the results of your projects, and use photos and video as much as possible.
Our company has recently been trying to raise series A funding in Silicon Valley. One common theme we saw from the majority of VCs and Angel investors we met with, was a keen interest in our community impact and corporate social responsibility efforts. Investors, local philanthropists, governments and startup organizations alike are increasingly backing companies who are giving back.
Having a social element to your startup also opens the door to working with organizations, funds and accelerators which have been designed to give a helping hand to social enterprises. Take The Social Impact Accelerator (SIA) in Europe and The Social Enterprise Alliance in the US, for example. Global startup organization Techstars recently launched an impact accelerator in Austin, Texas, specifically targeting startups focused on social and environmental impact.
In a Fortune article, Jen Wieczner highlights how charities and foundations are increasingly funding for-profit startups and even publicly traded companies, hoping to not only push research and innovation which can make positive changes in society, but also to win big from their stocks if the company turns out to be a success. Foundations know that startups can bring amazing products and services to market faster than they could work their way out of colleges and research centers, and are willing to place their bets on startups with shared goals and missions.
It goes without saying that if you are going to launch a social project within your startup, you should do it for the right reasons, to really give back and help people. But as a scaling company, you need all the ‘foot ups’ you can get, so next time you want to raise funding, find mentors or partners, put your social responsibility card at the front of your pack, and you will be pleasantly surprised by the results.