Social responsibility programs are becoming common practice nowadays among companies of all shapes and sizes. It’s more and more expected that businesses should promote charities or humanitarian goals along with their own business objectives. While the cannabis industry has a long history of supporting education about the medical uses of cannabis as well as anti-prohibition measures, social responsibility programs go far beyond that.
In some cases, companies and businesses are not only required to have a social responsibility program but they’re also required to volunteer with nonprofits in order to stay compliant with state and local regulations.
What isn’t required?
Unfortunately all too often, social responsibility programs can be initiated without the actual input of local communities. This causes businesses to miss out on opportunities to engage with neighbors, establish trust, and make a long-lasting difference in the communities they serve.
We know that running a business, particularly a start-up, is a lot to handle. Add to that the unique challenges we face working in the cannabis industry–high taxes, business discrimination, and strict regulations–and it may seem that social impact is something that can wait for the future. However, establishing trust with customers and community is vital to business sustainability. If you treat your neighbors like they are incidental to your success, they will treat you with the same consideration.
Case in point, one of the oldest dispensaries in the US, Berkeley Patients Group (BPG) was targeted by the federal government in 2012 and faced the very real possibility of shutting down. BPG always had a community focus, whether it was providing patient-to-patient care, free medication and services to patients in need, or supporting local nonprofits. The community rallied to support them as they dealt with this challenge and they were able to move locations and stay open. Without this backing from the community, BPG may have not been able to survive the legal threat. Last year they celebrated their 20th anniversary and launched a “1MM for Good” initiative, in which they have pledged to donate $1 million over the next decade to nonprofits and charities.
How to start building those community connections? While it may seem daunting, really it starts small and grows from there.
1. Engage with your neighbors.
Work and connect with people on the individual level. If it’s hard to interact with neighbors casually, consider attending a neighborhood association or community district meetings. Listen to the concerns that are being discussed and how the community wants to address them. Is your business in a position to help? Even writing a letter in support of a new stop sign at a nearby intersection can open a conversation about how to be a good partner in the community.
2. Build trust.
Consider how existing social responsibility projects may impact your community. Giving away donations in a primarily Muslim neighborhood during Ramadan would seem pretty clueless and uninformed.
3. Do your research.
Much like the point above, knowing the history behind certain organizations can help or hurt your cause. For example, collecting donations in a predominately LGBTQ+ neighborhood for the Salvation Army (which has had a long history of homophobic discrimination) is not going to help you establish trusting relationships with your neighbors.
4. Ask for help.
Whenever possible, ask the local community which organizations they support or which issues concern them the most. Not only will they appreciate the questions, using their suggestions will bond them closer to your business.
kindColorado, big sister to Cannabis Doing Good, specializing in community engagement and CSR, can help too.
5. Remember the big picture.
While it’s exciting to be a part of an emerging industry, we have the burden of representation. Not only do we represent our own businesses, to some people, we may represent cannabis companies as a whole. We owe it to each other to demonstrate to our communities that we are thoughtful, responsible, and strategic.
Businesses of all sizes are reckoning with the impact that they have on the planet, our policies, and our people.
By going beyond a basic social responsibility program and really engaging with your community, your business can be a force of good that extends beyond just your valued customers out into the community and into the world. And that means that your community will be there for you beyond the basics too.