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Getting corporate social responsibility right means stepping back

A quick Google search will confirm that corporate social investment (CSR) has some telling statistics behind it. For example, 77% of consumers are motivated to purchase from companies committed to improving the world, with Millennials in particular, putting much effort into understanding a company’s CSR practices and what they achieve.

And the majority of employees (93%) believe that companies must lead with purpose.

But, say Cheryl Petzer and Michele Gravett, Jawitz Properties co-franchisees in East London, making those statistics real on the ground requires thought—and a distinctly maverick approach.

Petzer says that when the Jawitz franchise opened in East London 12 years ago, “People didn’t even know how to pronounce the name”. She and Gravett realised that they had to find a way of integrating their fledgling enterprise into the community—something that’s particularly important in a business-like real estate.

“When it comes to selling a house, it’s more than just a business transaction—a house is not just bricks and mortar, it is a repository of memories and represents most people’s biggest investment. They want to trust the agent they’re dealing with, for a start, and know that he or she is not just in the game for their own benefit,” Petzer says. “That’s where CSR can play a huge role—but it has to be done right.”

Many companies, perhaps even the majority, tend to see CSR as a marketing opportunity, but nothing could be more fatal, Gravett believes. She and her team think carefully about what branding they use at CSR events, aside from wearing Jawitz apparel, which is more about team spirit than anything else. The absence of overt branding communicates the message that their team is committed to the community and is investing in it.

An important point is that the company doesn’t decide what projects to support, but rather finds out what the community’s needs are, and then designs the CSR project accordingly. That way it leans directly into the community’s needs, rather than trying to do what it thinks best. In this way, she says, the company begins to integrate into the community. She also consciously tries to involve other local businesses in any endeavour, further building links into the community.

An example of one of Jawitz East London’s successful projects which ran over 6 years, was the Jawitz Colour My Run, a family 5km fun run—the name comes from the fact that each 1 km colour station was colour themed and supported a local charity and was sponsored by a local business. Although the lockdowns put paid to the idea, Gravett says people still come up and ask her when the race will begin again.

It’s important that the whole team participates in CSR programmes because that drives home the “walk the talk” message, showing that the company is not just ticking a box, but genuinely believes in what it is doing.

Winning the war for talent

“Staff participation is important for a second reason as well—participating in such event, undertaken in a true community spirit, is by its nature uplifting, and creates strong bonds between team members,” Gravett adds. “We don’t force our team to participate, they want to, and sets off almost a chain reaction that positively impacts everybody.”

Approaching CSR in this kind of spirit also helps a company to attract the right kind of people. Research clearly shows that people—especially younger ones—look beyond salary or opportunity in search of a company whose ethos aligns with theirs. It also, as noted, positions the company to be seen as relatable by those looking for somebody to entrust with the sale of a cherished possession, and who could be trusted to deliver the expected professionalism and care.

“You must never see CSR as a marketing initiative, but rather as an investment into your business’s long-term success by building its brand at the grassroots,” Petzer concludes. “If your CSR is treated as an indication of who you are and how you do business, it will be an indication that you are doing it right.”

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