Guest post: Tapping into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

29 Jan 2018 Sam Evans    Last updated: 7 Feb 2018

Sam Evans has been involved in CSR for over 8 years, both as a CSR advisor for an International law firm and as a Corporate Fundraiser. As both a "poacher and gamekeeper", he shares his unique insights into Community Needs and Corporate Philanthropy.
Corporate Social Responsibility & how to tap into it

Understanding Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

To understand how to benefit from CSR you firstly need to understand CSR.

CSR, Corporate Social Responsibility, Corporate Citizenship, Sustainability, corporate accountability, sustainable development. It has many names but it all leads to the same thing. It is the approach a business has to address the needs of the community it serves and its staff.

Initially a few of the more considerate companies would encourage their staff to fundraise and even allow work time to do so. Others would assign a percentage of profit with little or no interest in how or where this profit went, and some would simply do nothing at all.  However, over the last 20 years there has been a real sea change in the involvement and interest companies are taking in CSR. Businesses have been employing individuals and even teams of full time staff dedicated to making sure they are doing the most they can for their staff, environment and community.

They’re opening their own Foundations where charities and voluntary organisations can apply for funding. They are organising large fundraisers and community involvement days where staff and volunteers work side by side. They are investing heavily in offsetting carbon emissions and evaluating their supply chains and sourcing the most sustainable materials. They are leading the way in the fight for equality and diversity.

They are ‘working smarter’ like they would with all aspects of their business. They are aligning themselves with charities that reflect their own motivations. They are working on having sustainable strategic impact. They are using their skills base to help in a more direct way, through workshops, staff secondments, mentoring schemes. Not only is this more impactful for the non-profit but it is cost saving for the company.

The elite businesses are working with global organisations and governments and fighting against climate change and leading the way in Equality and Diversity

This all costs time and money so why do they do it? The simple answer it benefits them too.

This is a reason why the biggest companies in the world are investing so heavily in it. When all this is done correctly, CSR can be a fantastic tool in a company's armour when it comes to winning business, attracting the right workforce and building a business's reputation. With more and more clients demanding their suppliers are socially and environmentally ethical. It could even be argued that not having a CSR strategy is detrimental to business growth.

And this is great news for the sector, as it means whether a charity is a large national or a local grassroot enterprise there is always an opportunity to work creatively with businesses.

Getting your foot in the door and keeping it open

Firstly, look what you’re good at. You’re a charity. You’re doing fantastic work.  Look at what you can teach a company about the work you do and why you do it.

Secondly, offer a service.  Businesses love their staff to learn and that way you are offering a product and not turning up with a begging bowl.  You can still research the company's CSR programme and determine if they can work with you in the future, but offering a service as your first step is a fabulous way to open a door and get your brand out there.  Once there, it’s much easier to get in front of the decision makers and influencers.

To develop effective corporate partnerships, you need think about two things - 

1)  What do we actually need?

Write a shopping list of the things you need the most. This can be anything from money to office furniture.  Be honest and realistic.

  • If it's money, make it tangible. ‘£xxx will provide services for a year’ ‘£x will buy medical kits'. This tangible information is key in communicating the impact a company can have on your charity
  • If it’s something like office furniture then ask around about companies who are relocating
  • Is it advice? Legal advice? Accountancy advice?  Those businesses are the experts and it's more cost effective for them to provide a service they specialise in than paying the charity to outsource the equivalent
  • Is it access to their staff? It’s easy for a charity to promote something to their staff via email, whether it’s a fundraising event or a volunteer request

2)  What does that business need to grow and how can we help?

Think about what the business wants from a relationship and what you can facilitate. Is it -

  • Providing staff training? Employers love the idea of staff being trained and learning new skills even when it’s not directly related to the business
  • Publicity?  Think of a way you can give them "more bang for their buck"
  • Customer growth? Can you help promote their business in anyway? Promoting the help they provide is one way but is there another? Can you encourage the public to visit their website in some way?
  • Networking? If you already have a relationship with the company think about who they would want to get to know and organise a way of meeting them through you.
  • Staff Team building? Can you facilitate a way of staff team building whether it’s through a fundraising event or a ‘Community hands on day’ Make it simple, make it relevant and above all, make it effective.
  • Feedback? If a company gives money or time away they are probably going to want to be able to demonstrate the effect it has had. As well as the obvious ‘thank you’, feedback the impact their input has had to them. Use that tangible information as well as possible

Obviously, this is not an exhaustive list because charities and companies are as varied as the population itself, but I want to stress that by working smarter and putting yourself in the shoes of a business you can find a relationship that prospers.

Whether a company invests in CSR as a result of civic duty, client demand or market competition it doesn't really matter. CSR is a vital income source for charities now and for the future. The good news is that, done correctly, CSR can make Northern Ireland an even better place.

A Final Word

"Remember - be clear about what you need and have a good understanding of what the company wants, because relationships are a two-way street."

The opinions, views or comments in this article do not necessarily reflect any views or policies of NICVA.
by Sam Evans

Community & Events Fundraiser - Northern Ireland - Stroke Association

[email protected]