The busy person’s guide to making a bigger impact – CSR

By Susan August 27, 2013 12:23

The busy person’s guide to making a bigger impact – CSR


As you know I’m absolutely convinced that CSR (“corporate social responsibility”, or business activities that have a charitable focus to create a socially better world) is a wonderful, wonderful way to make a very positive impact, both on the world at large and on your business at the same time.

I know a lot of people are in two minds about this, most of the time because they think they have nothing to give. They look at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and think they have no money to give; they look at Mother Teresa and think that they can’t afford the time to volunteer, because they have other commitments.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Mother Teresa are awe-inspiring examples, yes. But you don’t have to be a multi-billionaire or to become a full-time volunteer to be able to help out in an extremely effective way. Very often the impact you can have is huge for a relatively modest input.

In fact, I think the “1% Difference Campaign” have hit the nail on the head by quantifiying the impact of 1% of our time and 1% of our money on the overall macro help that Ireland can offer.

Let me explain.


Giving money:

the one people find the most obvious


I attended the Cartier awards’ launch in Ireland last year. The previous recipient of the award was a glamorous businesswoman who gives 50% of her profits to charity. This is truly impressive and a rare occurrence. Interestingly, the lady in question told us that this investment generated a very high return. It fitted right in with the environmental nature of her business, making it all more coherent. And her marketing spend was under £100, thanks to the willingness of the charities to share their PR resources with her.

For International Women’s Day this year, I partnered with the Roscommon Women’s Network to sponsor an event for them, on the occasion of the launch of my book. The audience I had in mind when writing the book is partly inspired by the women that the RWN helps on a daily basis: women who seek to make their lives better by tapping the resources that are available around them.

In my book, I wanted to share the message that, no matter your situation, you can take steps to improve it. I wanted this to be an empowering message of hope for absolutely everyone irrespective of age, income level, education level and most importantly, confidence level. So having a nice event and book launch together with the RWN made a lot of sense. I volunteered my time, since I gave a presentation, but we also covered the expenses for the venue and the food and donated €5 from each book sold at the event, to the RWN.

All in all, it wasn’t on the scale of Bill and Melinda, but it was lovely to be able to do it. The attendees had a day out, a chance to have a chat with both new and familiar people, enjoy their lunch, get some actionable tips to take control of their finances and take the first steps to achieving their dreams. After all, that is the very essence of both International Women’s Day itself and The Savvy Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom.

So if you think “I don’t have the kind of money that would make any difference to a charity”, think again – what kind of money are we talking about? Test your assumptions. You might be surprised how much of a difference a relatively small amount of money makes.

And by sponsoring that event, we had the lovely feeling of creating a financial win-win-win situation for all involved:

  • the RWN attendees had a great day,
  • the bookseller that I had asked to come sold more of the book in a day than they would have in a number of months,
  • the Abbey Hotel, Roscommon, also benefitted, since the event brought additional business,
  • they had to bring in extra staff for the day so there was extra income flowing to another household in Roscommon
  • the local newspaper photographer was commissioned for an extra job as he covered the event
  • the charity had a chance to offer an extra event on its calendar
  • RWN also had a larger bank balance as a result of the sales of the book that day
  • my publisher also felt the positive financial effects of the extra sales.

As for myself, I got a very healthy dose of the warm and fuzzies.


Giving time:

The one most people think they can’t afford


Giving your time can take so many forms – overseeing a charity shop for a few hours a week, taking part in a soup kitchen once in a while, training as a Samaritan listener… One hour a week, or even one hour a month, is enough to make a difference. Most charities are overstretched, and their regular volunteers overworked – if even just a few people helped out for one hour a month each, that would be a huge relief.

And of course you stand to benefit just as much as the charity you help, by experiencing facets of life and meeting people you would never meet otherwise. It’s a fantastically rewarding feeling when you can help people out in some way and use your own skills to fill a gap in another organization.

Some companies donate a day a year of their staff’s time to a charity (e.g. Deloitte & Touche’s IMPACT Day): the employee, instead of going in to work at their company, will go to help a charity for a day. The company is in effect paying a member of their staff to work a day in another organization with a charitable focus. This solves the conundrum of “I don’t have time to volunteer because I have a full-time job” – perhaps your company will be happy to make room in that full time job for you to volunteer. What’s a day a year? And still, if all the employees of a company do it, the effect can be massive.

While I’m sure this would apply in many charities, as a case in point, the Roscommon Women’s Network would be greatly helped if volunteers just came in for an hour or two and took calls – simply this, taking calls – while the RWN staff attend strategic meetings. This, incidentally, is a great example of how having to attend to the urgent prevents you from taking care of the important.

RWN staff have to take those calls, since it is an important part of their mission: those calls are from people who need help. But this prevents them from advancing through strategic planning and helping these people even more effectively. Because they are short on time, they are forced to choose between day-to-day operations (and these are necessary and vital), and big leaps in effectiveness that could be brought about if only they had the space to step back and examine their operations.

I have given talks for free to audiences consisting of unemployed people or students, on how to make their job search more effective and what employers are really looking for. Just taking the time to share my knowledge was something worthwhile and valuable that I could offer the audience.

Another crucial way to help, and one that does not require any special skill (other than being kind and non-judgmental!) is listening. If you have very little time, no money and think you don’t have any skill or expertise to share, you still have two ears. This is extremely effective and extremely precious to the recipient.


Giving your expertise:

The one people are afraid to give


This is particularly applicable for people in business, whether they are owners or employees. Your unique expertise could be a game changer for an individual or an organization. But many people might be afraid to give away their expertise for free. After all, if it’s available for free, why would people pay for it?

But nobody said you had to give all of your expertise for free, to everybody, all of the time. Choose who you want to help, who you know would benefit from your experience and who has the get-up-and-go to put it into action. In fact, as you practice what you’re good at, even for free, you’re clearly demonstrating your ability, increasing your exposure and allowing more people to “sample” what you can do for them.

This is why creating Wall Street to the Classroom was such a boon for my budding business: it was completely worth my while to create a series of detailed videos and then release them, complete with lesson plans, for free, on the internet. The course teaches the difference between investing and speculating at a basic level, gives a primer in ETFs (Exchange Traded Funds), goes through the basics of an investment strategy and how to buy and sell shares online, all in a bite-size sixteen-class module.

Giving a skill is also a great CV-builder. The RWN would love it if somebody with good communication skills and some Microsoft Word and email campaign savvy did their newsletter. I did exactly this for my own community association in Cork when I was seventeen.

Such volunteering is great for people looking for a job as it allows them to build their CV and demonstrate clearly that they can do a specific thing. This means you can bypass the eternal conundrum of “Can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job”. By taking the initiative and creating your own experience, you’re out of the vicious circle!

In an interview, which candidate do you think will be taken more seriously? The one who knows they are good at Excel and simply tells the interviewer, or the one who created, designed, managed and extracted data from Excel spreadsheets while volunteering for a charity and has an excellent reference to boot? The two candidates might have the same Excel skills, but which one do you think will be more convincing in the interview?

This is something I never tire of emphasising: giving back is one of the best ways to get ahead, while doing good at the same time. If you find yourself in a more fortunate set of circumstances than others, perhaps you might consider enabling them to move forward, too. It will only speed up your own progress.


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By Susan August 27, 2013 12:23