The CEO of Ford Motor Co., William Ford Jr., once said “A good company delivers excellent products and services, and a great company does all that and strives to make the world a better place”. As a business owner, I’ve taken that advice to heart. The actions of myself and my firm are emblematic of the desire to promote corporate social responsibility. By contributing, rather than simply donating, we become more involved in the outcome of our devotion to the practice of law. As an attorney, I am able to have a significant social impact by making specialized contributions to initiatives that promote justice. These contributions can come in the form of volunteering on committees for non-profit organizations, or even providing legal advice through volunteer lawyer programs. There are, however, limits to what we are able to do.
Whether your motivations are self-interest, philanthropic, or altruistic there are limitations to the commitments a business should make. It is important to maintain balance in business, as focusing too much on one area can cause problems in another. For instance, by spreading yourself too thin you run the risk of jeopardizing the relationships with your client base. Clients love to see that you and your company are philanthropic with your time and money, but not at the expense of theirs. Milton Friedman, one of the most heralded economists of our time, said that by spending someone else’s money for a general social interest, the corporation is imposing taxes on one hand, and deciding how the tax proceeds shall be spend on the other…which is a governmental function. Thus, it is important to promote social responsibility, but not at the expense of your business.
The above being said, it is important to remember the overall strategy of your business. No matter what, a business operates to make money. Our cars do not run on good-will, and you cannot pay your rent with praise. By starting a business with initiatives that promote social responsibility and advance its financial objectives you will be one step ahead from those that do not. The challenge, however, is to maintain balance between your obligations to your paying clients and to the community as a whole.