Should a Small Business Take on Social Issues?

It seems like a lot of big companies are taking a stand on social issues – and getting a lot of attention for doing so. Some positive and some negative. Does that mean small business owners should follow along? Before you dive into this area, consider these points:

  • Do you have a social issue that is compatible with your company’s mission and values? Be authentic rather than jumping into a particular issue just because it’s popular. For example, if you’re in the food business, look for a cause or organization that helps feed the hungry. Your company’s industry knowledge could be extremely beneficial to helping solve a social problem.
  • Do your customers have the same feelings on the issue? Large companies can usually weather controversy better than a small one. If a small company angers half their customers by promoting a contentious issue that could really hurt sales. And, they could risk alienating future customers.
  • Do you want your company to be known as a “political” organization? National politics are divisive right now, but local politics can be messy as well. Neighbors have a long memory about who you do or don’t support.

If you’re interested in social issues, there are plenty of local community groups that would welcome your company’s support. There’s a new buzzword for this — cause marketing — that brings together a non-profit and for-profit to the benefit of both organizations. Small companies can have a significant impact in their communities and employees can join in as well. Fundraising, building awareness, and volunteer days can positively affect your community in a big way – and you also receive the benefit of promoting your company’s efforts.

Balance and common sense are important when taking on social issues. The shock and awe of a large company promoting a strong stance on an issue will provide much media coverage and discussion long after the “campaign” ends. Make sure you select the cause that’s right for you.