How have attitudes toward corporate social responsibility (CSR) changed?

Amanda McKenzie OBE – The desire by business to make a difference hasn’t changed. But there has been a shift in how CSR is perceived from a philanthropic choice to something that businesses that want to thrive must engage in. There’s also a greater understanding of the need for collaboration to tackle the really big issues.

Vicky Mirfin Businesses of all sizes are now thinking more strategically about how they interact with the world around them including the way they support their staff, their impact on the environment, how they manage supply chains and support their immediate community.  

 

What benefit do charity partnerships bring for business?

AM – Businesses can gain a deeper, more meaningful understanding of their communities and customers by working with charity partners. By partnering with charities, business is exposed to different ways of working and can bring insight and innovation back into their business. Enabling staff to get involved with charities can also be a real morale booster.

VM – We know that CSR can be an important differentiator as SMEs seek to attract and retain employees. It’s a great way for companies to underpin their business strategies and demonstrate the values they hold.

 

What makes an effective charity partnership? 

AM – Starting each partnership with an honest discussion of what both parties hope to achieve and setting clear, measurable goals makes a positive outcome for all more likely. In our experience, we find structured long term relationships are more powerful than ad hoc arrangements. For example, our Business Connector programme enables businesses to second senior employees into local communities of greatest need. 

VM – The best charity partnerships are those based on shared values and where businesses can make a unique and relevant contribution. For example, we have a small recruitment firm who provide advice on writing CVs and interview techniques to support a grassroots organisation who help young people find employment. 

 

How do businesses establish truly effective CSR programmes?

AM – There has to be responsibility at board level to make the CSR strategy more than just a set of nicely worded values. When a strategy really aligns with business objectives, is communicated throughout the business in a way that is relevant to everyone and gets translated into policies that people at all levels can understand and apply – then both society and that business win.

VM – It can be daunting, particularly for SMEs, but there is a lot of support out there. Through Heart of the City, we run a free programme where businesses can network with others, participate in workshops, receive support from a mentor and have access to a whole range of online resources so they don’t have to invent everything from scratch.

 

What do you think the future looks like for charity and business partnerships?

AM – Business in the Community is very ambitious about how much further we can go to leverage all sizes of business as a force for good, combined with the expertise of civil society. We’re looking forward to the year ahead! 

VM – The vast majority of the companies in the UK are SMEs so I think we can see more partnerships on a local level. Businesses also have huge amounts of expertise and bringing together people from different sectors to tackle things going forward is hugely exciting.