CSR: How your startup can make an impact from day one
Samantha Furley, October 26th 2023

For startup founders juggling limited resources, competing priorities and monetary pressures, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the social responsibility expectations placed on startups. 

Sustainability, digital inclusion, responsible supply chains, impact investing, the list goes on… for many startup founders however, the day one focus is survival over philanthropy, which is why so many choose to categorise Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as a ‘day two’.  

But tech startups no longer have the luxury of keeping CSR on the backburner, especially in a generation as socially aware and resilient as today’s.  

Startups are expected to be socially conscious; to embed sustainability, to value and support employees, to positively contribute to their communities. After all, you are what you build. 

As a business, you’ll be judged on your ethical and environmental credentials as much as you will for your product or service. This makes embracing CSR almost a prerequisite for tech startups.  

In our view, it’s never too early to embed CSR within your tech startup. Here’s why.  

Firstly, what is a Corporate Social Responsibility? 

Corporate Social Responsibility outlines your startup’s efforts to improve its social and environmental impact. It sounds simple, but it’s a wide-ranging concept and one that is tricky to define accurately.  

A common misconception is that CSR needs to be big to be impactful. On the contrary, CSR is so much more than big-tech (deep pocketed) businesses making financial commitments to big-name charities, and it certainly doesn’t require a corporate-sized team (and budget) to be commercially valuable. 

Embedding a CSR policy from day one doesn’t need to be time-consuming, or even costly. Start small and simply by supporting a local charity, cause or community that aligns with your mission.  

Considering BCorp status could also be a step in embedding responsible practices from the outset; it offers a framework for companies looking to benefit both society and shareholders. 

So how does this translate to tech startups and small businesses?  

At ISL Talent, we support causes and give our time to organisations that value our expertise. We’ve hosted mock interview sessions in schools and sixth forms, and Alan, our CEO, has presented to MSc Fintech students at the University of the West of England (UWE) as guest lecturer. 

Every year, our team put together Christmas gift boxes for refugee and asylum seeker children in the UK, and we use 91 Ways, a local community-focused social enterprise, to provide food for our regular staff meetings. Alongside this, we support national charitable initiatives, such as MacMillan Coffee Morning, which enables us to socialise as a team whilst raising important funds in the process.  

These are all small steps, but collectively it promotes positivity within our team. All ISL Talent staff are actively engaged in CSR initiatives and are motivated to use their knowledge and experience to help and support others. For us, CSR is a win-win. It helps create a healthy, cohesive workplace whilst also allowing us to take part in activities and initiatives that positively enhance society.  

This is just an example, but CSR within your startup may look very different. For example, you could focus on diversity and inclusion, such as taking positive action to address gender imbalance in tech. You could implement a volunteer programme for staff, pledge your support to a local initiative, or consider becoming a mentor to a student studying a relevant STEM subject.  

You could also commit to implementing sustainable and environmentally-friendly practices from the start – for example, using recycled materials, sourcing from ethical suppliers, and adopting sustainable production methods.  

How CSR can support tech startups 

It doesn’t matter if you’re a team of five, or a team of 500. Having an embedded CSR policy demonstrates to prospective employees, customers, suppliers, and investors that you’re committed to more than just profit-making. You’re purpose driven; you value and care about your impact on the environment, on wider society, on your community.  

This is how CSR could benefit your tech startup. 

Attract top talent to your startup 

All the research points to Millennials and Gen Z employees having a greater sense of social conscience. They’re less money-orientated than previous generations and are motivated to work for tech startups with a sense of purpose and meaning that is aligned with their personal values.  

In some cases, having a clearly defined CSR policy can be the crucial point of differentiation when attracting and retaining employees who share the same values and beliefs.  

Employees that feel connected to a company’s mission and values are more likely to remain loyal to that employer. Embedding CSR at an early stage in your startup journey says to prospective employees that they’re working for a business that genuinely cares about making a positive impact on society and the environment. This can be highly motivating, and lead to higher morale, a more engaged workforce and increased job satisfaction.  

But, a word of warning. It’s important that you avoid ‘greenwashing’ – when businesses portray themselves as being CSR-minded when they’re not. This can have serious implications for your brand and how it is perceived.  

Attract customers to your startup 

Just as a strong CSR policy can attract talent to your startup, it can also be a powerful tool for attracting and retaining customers. Modern startups can’t afford to be faceless; customers are aware of their collective responsibility, and they’re asking questions about how you are giving back. 

Given this, it should come as little surprise that customers are more likely to support brands and businesses that they connect with, those that take a strong ethical stance, and those that contribute to wider societal issues. 

Working as a catalyst for your marketing strategy, an embedded CSR policy and a social mindset will support your startup in the long-term. What’s more, aligning your values with your prospective customers’ values will lead to greater retention and increased loyalty – both of which are crucial for the long-term stability (and ultimately, success) of your tech startup. 

Attract investment 

It’s likely that attracting investment is a major consideration for your tech startup, so it’s worth remembering that profitability alone is no longer the only metric investors prioritise when sourcing potential investment opportunities.  

Increasingly institutional investors are focusing on CSR, or more broadly ESG (Environmental, social, and corporate governance) as a factor in their investment decisions. For some this is a choice, for others a more pragmatic approach to appeal to their own investors, and for some it’s both – but whatever the motivation it’s a trend that is increasing. 

Finally, considering a BCorp certification could further validate your startup's commitment to balancing profit with purpose, appealing to a new wave of socially responsible investors. 

So as well as the return within your business, it may help you to maximise investment into your startup by honing-in on your purpose beyond profit-making. 

Find out more 

Passion and purpose drives startups – but it’s easy to assume that things such as CSR and sustainability apply only to large businesses and big-tech.  

But, there’s a CSR strategy for every business, at every stage, at every size – even those with limited funds and shoestring budgets. You just need to be honest and sincere in your CSR support. 

If you would like to have a chat further, get in touch with our Co-founder & CEO, Alan Furley, on alan@isltalent.com or connect with him on LinkedIn.  

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