Via, 04-09-2011

Kiwi small business owners want to do the right thing in their communities – and people are more important than the environment, a study on their philanthropic tendencies shows.

The Wellington Institute of Technology study of 2170 small- and medium-size businesses found more than 66 per cent of respondents believed doing good for their community would contribute to success in their businesses.

The top-ranked activity was making financial donations, followed by allowing staff flexible hours, training and sponsorship in the community.

Other worthwhile initiatives were mentoring, coaching sports teams and free services to worthwhile causes.

Green issues were at the bottom of the list, despite three-quarters of respondents agreeing their company should take responsibility for protecting the environment.

The study’s author, academic director Alan Cadwallader, said that result was a surprise. “They talk about operating their business sustainably but the evidence is they aren’t connected to that.”

A lack of economic imperatives or government policies existed to make sure SMEs were environmentally smart, he said. The policies that were in place focused mainly on large corporations.

“It’s a concern because SMEs are a powerhouse to the country and if they’re not concerning themselves with environmental impacts, we’re denying ourselves an opportunity to harness a powerful force.”

Cadwallader said a recurring theme was the lack of understanding from SMEs of how vital some of their contributions were. Flexible working conditions for staff and keeping them on in a recession were underrated. “If that was taken away the burden would be transferred on to the state through welfare services.”

More than 40 per cent of respondents said they would become less engaged in social responsibility when times were tough, but that wouldn’t make a difference for 20 per cent.

Business networking group BNI New Zealand commissioned the study and national director Graham Southwell said survival of a business was the most important priority during a recession. “It could be that altruism is viewed as a bit of a luxury.”

Respondents were evenly split when choosing how to demonstrate social responsibility. Half agreed or strongly agreed they would prefer to donate time rather than money and half were positive about staff doing voluntary community activities in spite of the pressures on staffing in a small-business environment.

Southwell said the study showed the gift of giving among Kiwi SMEs was “alive and well”.

“My hope is we’ll move more in this direction. We can’t live in isolation or ignore the environment and there’s tangible benefits from working collectively. We’ve taken the pulse of the membership and the general mood is, it’s important.”

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