A 21st-Century Approach to Corporate Social Responsibility
We’ve come a long way from the 1980s, where the prevailing instinct was that the drawbacks of corporate philanthropy outweighed any benefits there might now be. It’s now generally accepted that working in a socially responsible way is crucial, not only from an ethical perspective, but also for business.
In 2020, the World Economic Forum at Davos produced a manifesto emphasising a shift to so-called “stakeholder capitalism”, where the impact of business is seen beyond only profits and returns to shareholders.
“A company is more than an economic unit generating wealth,” the manifesto reads. “It fulfils human and societal aspirations as part of the broader social system. Performance must be measured not only on the return to shareholders, but also on how it achieves its environmental, social and good governance objectives.”
These environmental, social and governance (ESG) objectives are ever more important to investors, governments and shareholders. It goes beyond the boardroom, too. CSR has always been important to staff recruitment and retention, and research increasingly demonstrates that younger generations who are entering the workforce now or getting into their career stride highly value responsible business practices.
All of this is without mentioning the power and duty that successful businesses has to be a force for good in its communities. Of course CSR and ESG goals are more than just supporting charities, but it is one very effective way of leveraging a business’ resources for good causes.
So when you’re planning your company’s CSR activities, how can you make sure you organise something that is simultaneously impactful for charities and fulfilling for your teams?
Make it effective
“Our building has been painted so many times, the walls are closing in.” It’s a common joke in the charity sector.
Cynical? Yes, perhaps. But it reflects an oft-acknowledged feeling about some corporate social responsibility schemes. A group of skilled people comes in and performs a task in which they’re not skilled. Meanwhile, charities feel they have to be grateful for any support they get, so they are reluctant to say no.
It doesn’t have to be like that. All of those amateur painters are professional somethings, carrying with them experience and skills developed over their careers, along with the enthusiasm to do good. All of those charities have different needs, too, that go beyond interior decoration.
The key to positive charity/business engagement is finding the overlaps between business skills and charity needs. It could be support with strategic planning; maybe it’s building out financial forecasting capacity; they might need support with change management or staffing structures. These are capabilities you find in abundance in the private sector but which often are not available to charities.
As well as doing more good for the charity, it is better for the business, too. Employers, consumers and investors are switched on to superficial volunteering initiatives that are engineered to make good photo ops without committing the planning, time and resources to make it worthwhile. What’s more, participants will benefit from the feeling that they are using the skills they have developed in a new setting and developing them further.
Good CSR is not merely an add-on, last on the priority list. It should be woven into other aspects of business operation, tying into employee engagement, Learning & Development and internal communication strategies. And it should involve colleagues at every level of the business, from entry-level positions to the C-suite.
Even the most philanthropically-minded employee will struggle to put their all into charity initiatives if it feels like another thing on top of their day job. However, if it’s part of their role - and if they see leaders in the organisation taking part too - they will be motivated and engaged.
CSR managers can also find ways to involve their colleagues in ownership over the programmes. This might include inclusion in choosing the charities, or leadership roles when a team of colleagues is involved. Or it might be exploring with them whether engaging with charities can help in their role or career development, by opening a window on society in all of its diversity.
Evaluate and report
It’s vital to know how the success of your CSR schemes will be measured, and benchmarks should be included from the planning stage. This way, you’ll improve the impact you have on charities and your colleagues each year, and you can prove the value of the programmes within and outside the business.
Goals can be set based on internal objectives aligning with the business strategy, as well as external benchmarks. It can be useful to set goals against something like the UN’s Global Goals for Sustainable Development. For example, we have identified that Pilotlight’s work helps to further five of the 17 goals including No Poverty, Reduced Inequalities and Partnerships. This is well understood and means that the business’ ESG reporting is appropriately targeted.
In all of this, we should not lose sight of the idea that an important outcome to measure is the impact for the charities that a business supports. This is best done by learning about the charity’s goals and how they align with the business’, and then evaluating the outcome together with both qualitative and quantitative measures.
Find a partner
Working with a partner organisation who specialises in this field of work takes a lot of the leg work out of business/charity partnerships. At Pilotlight, we carefully vet the charities we support, so businesses know that their support is being directed to those who benefit. Our managed programmes mean you can trust us to make your resources go as far as possible. We can also work with you to build a bespoke programme to meet your goals in an even more targeted way.
Pilotlight can turbo-charge your CSR strategy. With us, you can get your people involved in direct, skills-based programmes with charities that make a difference. That way, you amplify your impact, and participants have the satisfaction of playing an expert role in a charity’s development.