Charities and corporates need to think smart to make CSR pay

In this two-part series our CEO Edward Shuttleworth explores how evolving expectations in Corporate Social Responsibility are changing the way charity and business work together.

The amount of commercial funding available to support the work of charities, never a large component of business budgets, is under pressure from many new directions.  Amidst continuing Government austerity measures and discussion about a ‘Big Society’, the community is increasingly looking to business to show leadership on a much broader front, including tackling complex social problems that don’t respond to the short termism of political rotation.

Austerity hits the vulnerable first and the hardest with many worthy organisations turning to business to help meet the funding gaps left by the cuts.  In response, business has naturally been part self-protective and part responsive, investing in individual approaches framed by their own activities and community interactions, defining much more clearly who they will engage with in order to best manage the time they have available and the return they can achieve.

To demonstrate growing relevance, small charities like ours have to clearly articulate their points of difference and link those to where they are most likely to win support, if they are to compete effectively for the funding they need with the resources available.

Part 1: The direct returns for business

Customers and employees can and do exercise their social preferences for where they spend money and where they work, making use of unrestricted online-interconnectedness.  When businesses get it wrong, stakeholder responses are plain to see in their financial performance.  Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is changing the corporate culture to embrace doing the right thing.  ‘No longer a bolt on, but part of core business’ CSR is moving business to take a broader view on value created and improving corporate accountability through more sophisticated measurement systems of positive and negative impact.  Dynamic measurement initiatives including the Six Capitals, have taken illustration and reporting on commitment beyond-profit outcomes and beyond triple or even quadruple bottom lines.

In this ever more complex world of interconnections, charities should do more than offer an organisation its mailing list or brand association.  They can back up an organisation’s aspiration to be perceived as both benevolent and to act with integrity, but to do this there must be more than a skin deep relationship.  Of course there is no silver bullet to demonstrating engagement, although huge international organisations links with big brand charities have provided them with a low risk strategy in this regard.

However, it no longer escapes people’s notice that there is no opportunity for any one organisation to influence the thinking or approach of a mega-charity.  Conversely, stories of involvement with smaller charities will likely be much more personal and engaging and the intimacy of deeper relationships and connections demonstrates greater involvement in, and commitment to, the objectives of the supported charities by the business and its employees.

Values alignment is a clear business opportunity for businesses to leverage off charities. Selecting what best fits a business’s own brand messages and so choosing appropriate charities to support, provides opportunities for staff as well as customer engagement.  It is not uncommon to hear how an organisation has been able to retain key staff because of the opportunities it has provided them to be involved with and build a relationship with one of the charities it supports.

For our charity, recognising what we can offer the marketing department, the CSR department, the personnel department, and even, the Corporate Foundation, is central to securing the support we need for our work.  That a business such as Aberdeen Asset Management will give us a grant for three years, trust us to reflect its values, and engage its staff in a way that develops them as individuals, says a great deal about both organisations and also illustrates how business funding for charities is evolving in terms of the time invested by both business and by charities to understand one another’s worlds.

In the second article in this series, Ed will look more directly at what kind of an impact business might expect to achieve inside the community where the charity works, from its social investment.

This article was originally produced for Thinking Aloud, the news and opinion forum for Aberdeen Asset Management.

Main picture: Project visits, where staff from donor companies get involved in the implementation of a program, are just one of the ways that SeeBeyondBorders works to personalise its relationships with corporate partners. 

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Author: SeeBeyondBorders

SeeBeyondBorders provides children in Cambodia with access to quality teaching and learning at school. Our approach is through sustainable development, helping communities help themselves.

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