How do you generate the right social purpose for your business?

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There’s no foolproof approach to finding your business’ social purpose, but there are a few steps you can take to form the right strategy.

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There’s no foolproof approach to finding your business’ social purpose, but there are a few steps you can take to form the right strategy.

Guest author: Olivia Larkin Olivia Larkin LinkedIn Profile, Impakt Corporation 

Ok, so you’ve gone over our checklist and now you are ready to take the first steps to finding your business’ social purpose. There’s no foolproof strategy to doing this. Indeed, one of the key factors is that the social purpose is uniquely tied to your individual business – so each process will be different.

However, we have developed some questions and tips to get you on the right track for uncovering the right social purpose for your business and figuring out how to put it into action.

To get started, you need to figure out the WHAT – what will your company commit to?

1. Talk to stakeholders.
And by stakeholders – we mean all of them. These are your employees, the executives, as well as local stakeholders in the community that your business operates in.

2. Research your competitors.
This is important in standing out as well as making sure you are not overlapping.

3. Learn about compelling social issues.
Look into the most compelling social issues, challenges, and problems in the space and/or community you are working in.

4. Determine the right fit.
What is it that your company does well, and can this be capitalized on? You need to determine what is strategically right for your business and make sure it fits with your business operations.

If it doesn’t fit well with your operations, and it’s a cause that will not be a differentiator, maybe try another issue

Your company’s social purpose should ideally incorporate all these four steps. You may come up with conflicting answers for each section. For example, if you are a stationery manufacturer and both your employees and the local stakeholders are really passionate about breast cancer, this still may not be the right issue to be your social purpose. It does not fit well with your company’s operations, and it is a cause that will not be a differentiator, as the market is already oversaturated. Maybe try another issue.

Once the social issue has been decided on, you then need to think about HOW to put it into action.

1. To what degree do you want people to know about your initiatives?
Though this may seem like an obvious answer, some businesses do want to be subtle with their communications due to their business culture.

2. Are your initiatives going to be philanthropic or will they be directly integrated into the business and its products and services?
There are many examples of the philanthropic model, where businesses donate set amounts of money to non-profit organizations that are working in the space. There are also some great examples of companies that integrate their social purpose into their business model, like TOMS shoes, hybrid car companies, and companies that sell fair trade artisan products.

3. Does your company want to support something or take the lead on solving the problem?
Your company can be a piece of the puzzle working towards solving this social issue, or it can be putting all the pieces of the puzzle together.

4. Who is currently working in the space and can you collaborate with them?
The key on working towards solving any social issue is collaboration. There will be many existing non-profits and other organizations working in the space already.

A compelling example in the Canadian market is The Home Depot Canada. Previous to their current social purpose, The Home Depot Canada was working with Habitat for Humanity and providing tools and employees’ volunteer hours to building houses. However, the people at The Home Depot Canada Foundation recognized the need to develop a dedicated social purpose.

THDC Orange Door Project PosterThe process they took to determine their social purpose incorporated key stakeholders, included an audit of their competitors, an investigation of the most compelling social issues, and ensured alignment with what it is they do as a business. The ultimate outcome was that The Home Depot Canada committed to working towards ending youth homelessness in Canada.

Today, The Home Depot Canada Foundation has provided grants to non-profits across the country (some of which were informed by youth who have experienced homelessness), built an Advisory Council, held in-store fundraising events, and held a symposium inviting corporations, youth-serving organizations, and youth who have experienced homelessness, among other initiatives. They have communicated their social purpose strategically on their website and by releasing papers.

Developing your company’s social purpose is no easy task – but we hope these tips and questions will help you think about what is right for your company, and make it easier for you to get started.

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