In today’s business world, there is an increasing focus on the social impact of companies.
Entrepreneurs and business owners must consider not only their financial success but also the effect their organization has on society.
By understanding the social implications of various business models, business owners can make informed decisions about their chosen structure and maximize the positive impact on society.
In this article, we will explore the social impact of different business structures, specifically LLCs, B Corps, partnerships, non-profit organizations, and corporations, by examining relevant statistics, factors influencing impact, and industry-specific trends.
Away we go…
What is Social Impact?
Definition: “The effect a company has on society beyond its financial performance.”
It encompasses a wide range of factors, including environmental sustainability, ethical business practices, and community engagement.
Essentially, social impact measures how well a company is meeting its responsibility to stakeholders beyond shareholders.
At its core, social impact is about creating positive change in the world.
This can take many forms depending on the industry and company structure.
For example, a non-profit organization may focus on providing services to underserved communities, while a B Corp may prioritize sustainable production methods.
Regardless of the specifics, social impact is an essential consideration for any business seeking long-term success in today’s socially conscious landscape.
By prioritizing social impact alongside financial performance, companies can create value for all stakeholders and contribute to a more sustainable future for everyone.
Let’s have a look at the social impact of each type of business structure…
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs)
Limited Liability Companies (LLCs) are a popular business structure due to their flexibility and ease of formation. However, their social impact is often overlooked.
According to the Small Business Administration, as of 2018, there were over 4 million LLCs in the United States, employing over 10 million people.
This shows the significant role that LLCs play in the country’s economy and job creation.
A study by B Lab found that while some LLCs prioritize social responsibility, many do not have a clear commitment to it.
The report states that “while LLCs represent a major force in our economy, they face no legal requirement to consider stakeholders beyond shareholders when making decisions,” highlighting the need for increased transparency and accountability.
Despite this lack of legal requirements, some LLCs have made impressive strides towards social responsibility.
For example, Warby Parker, an eyewear company structured as an LLC, has a strong social mission at its core.
As co-founder Neil Blumenthal stated in an interview with Forbes, “We’re trying to build a company that’s profitable and does good in the world… We believe that businesses can be great agents for change.”
Non-profit organizations have long been recognized for their social impact.
Operating without the primary goal of generating profits, these organizations often focus on social causes, such as education, health, and poverty alleviation.
According to the National Philanthropic Trust, in 2020, Americans donated $471.44 billion to charities, with 69% of the total contribution coming from individuals.
This shows the importance of non-profit organizations in addressing societal needs and the public’s willingness to support them.
Furthermore, non-profit organizations provide employment opportunities.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, non-profits accounted for over 12.3 million jobs in 2016, representing 10.2% of private sector employment in the United States.
Partnerships are a type of business structure in which two or more individuals own and operate the company together.
While partnerships are less common than other business structures, they still play an important role in the economy.
According to the Small Business Administration, as of 2018, there were over 3 million partnerships in the United States, employing over 7 million people.
Additionally, partnerships contributed $1.4 trillion to the economy in 2016.
One benefit of partnerships is their potential for collaboration and shared decision-making.
As stated by entrepreneur Richard Branson, “A partnership should be a win-win situation for both parties involved.” When successful, partnerships can lead to increased innovation and growth.
However, partnerships also have limitations when it comes to social impact. Unlike non-profits or B Corps, partnerships do not have a clear legal requirement to prioritize social responsibility.
This means that individual partners must take it upon themselves to integrate social and environmental considerations into their business practices.
Despite this lack of formal requirements, some partnerships have made strides towards social impact.
For example, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard has spoken about how his company’s partnership with Fair Trade USA has allowed them to improve working conditions and wages for factory workers producing their clothing.
Overall, while partnerships offer benefits such as shared decision-making and flexibility, their social impact is largely dependent on individual partners’ values and practices.
In the context of a partnership structure, this means that each partner must take responsibility for prioritizing social responsibility within their organization.
As stated by business consultant Simon Sinek, “A leader’s job is not to do the work for others but to help others figure out how to do it themselves.”
B Corps, or Benefit Corporations, are a relatively new type of business structure that combines the profit-driven nature of traditional corporations with a commitment to social and environmental responsibility.
To become a B Corp, a company must meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
A 2019 report by B Lab UK found that B Corps outperform other businesses in various social impact metrics.
For example, B Corps are 27% more likely to offer paid family leave, 65% more likely to have diversity and inclusion policies, and 2.5 times more likely to have a female CEO.
Industry-specific trends also reveal the social impact of B Corps.
According to the 2019 B Corp Global Impact Report, B Corps in the food and beverage industry have a 64% higher environmental impact score compared to their peers, while B Corps in the consumer goods sector have a 55% higher community impact score.
Corporations, or C-Corporations, are the most common type of business structure in the United States.
They are often associated with large, publicly traded companies and have a legal obligation to prioritize shareholder value over social impact.
According to the National Center for Charitable Statistics, as of 2016, there were over 1.7 million tax-exempt organizations in the United States, with only 5% being corporations.
However, corporations hold significant power and influence in society due to their size and resources.
One criticism of corporations is their focus on profit over social responsibility.
In a statement to Forbes, economist Milton Friedman famously stated that “the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits.”
This attitude has contributed to negative perceptions of corporations as solely profit-driven entities.
However, there are examples of corporations making positive social impact.
For example, Microsoft has committed to becoming carbon negative by 2030 and has invested in renewable energy projects.
The company has also pledged to increase diversity within its workforce and leadership positions.
Furthermore, some argue that corporations have a unique ability to drive positive change due to their resources and reach.
As stated by Harvard Business School professor Rebecca Henderson in an interview with NPR, “I think it’s really important that we don’t demonize business…because if we demonize them, we lose all hope that they can be part of the solution.”
Overall, while corporations face criticism for prioritizing profits over social responsibility, there are examples of positive impact within this type of business.
As businesses continue to face pressure from consumers and stakeholders to prioritize social impact alongside financial success, it will be interesting to see how corporations respond and adapt.
9 Factors Influencing Social Impact
Various factors influence the social impact of businesses, regardless of their structure.
Here are some key aspects to consider when evaluating the social impact of your organization:
1. Mission and values:
A company’s mission and values play a significant role in determining its social impact.
Organizations that prioritize social and environmental responsibility will likely have a more significant positive impact on society.
The social impact of a business can vary significantly depending on its industry.
For example, companies operating in sectors with high environmental footprints, such as manufacturing or transportation, may need to take more significant steps to minimize their negative impact on society.
3. Size and reach:
The size and reach of a company also influence its social impact.
Larger organizations with a more extensive customer base and global presence tend to have a more significant impact on society, both positive and negative.
4. Stakeholder engagement:
Companies that actively engage with their stakeholders, such as employees, customers, and local communities, are better positioned to understand and address the social and environmental issues affecting them.
5. Supply chain practices:
A company’s social impact can be influenced by its supply chain practices.
For example, companies that prioritize ethical sourcing and fair labor practices can have a positive impact on workers throughout their supply chains.
6. Transparency and accountability:
Companies that prioritize transparency and accountability are better positioned to identify and address social and environmental issues within their organization.
This can include regular reporting on social impact metrics or engaging with external auditors to ensure compliance with industry standards.
Innovative companies that prioritize sustainability and social responsibility in their products or services can have a significant positive impact on society.
For example, companies developing renewable energy technologies or sustainable packaging solutions can contribute to a more sustainable future.
8. Community involvement:
Companies that actively engage with local communities through philanthropy, volunteerism, or other initiatives can have a positive impact on those communities and build stronger relationships with stakeholders.
9. Regulatory environment:
The regulatory environment in which a company operates can influence its social impact.
Companies operating in industries with strict environmental regulations may be required to take steps to reduce their negative impact on the environment, while companies operating in industries without such regulations may need to take proactive steps to ensure they are operating responsibly.
The social impact of businesses is a critical consideration for entrepreneurs and business owners who want to make a positive difference in society.
By understanding the social implications of different business structures, such as non-profit organizations and B Corps, and examining factors that influence impact and industry-specific trends, business owners can make informed decisions about their chosen structure.
If you’re considering starting a business or rethinking your current business model, take a closer look at the social impact of your organization.
By choosing a structure that aligns with your values and contributes positively to society, you can create lasting change and inspire others to do the same.
We can help you start making a difference today…
- National Philanthropic Trust - Charitable Giving Statistics
- Bureau of Labor Statistics - Nonprofits in America
- B Lab UK - 2019 B Corp Impact Report
- B Corp - 2019 B Corp Global Impact Report
- Forbes - Milton Friedman Was Wrong About Corporate Social Responsibility
- Patagonia - Fair Trade Certified
- Microsoft - Sustainability
- NPR - Can Corporations Be A Force For Good? A CEO Says Yes