Published on: Thursday 03 May 2018 at 11:50
First things, first – what is Corporate Responsibility?
Well, the initiative goes by many terms. Corporate Responsibility, Corporate Social Responsibility, Responsible Business, Corporate Citizenship – to name a few!
In the past decade, the initiative has been labelled under each of those buzz terms. This is a sign of its ever-evolving face.
Essentially, it’s a programme of activities that sees businesses align themselves with social issues as part of their responsibility to their consumers, the environment, their staff and the globe.
For example, a coffee company might support equal trade groups for farmers in South America; a veterinary surgery might support an animal welfare charity; a funeral director might support a hospice.
Partnerships between charities and corporate organisations are usually for the mutual benefit of both parties. Corporate Responsibility, for many non-profit organisations, ensures that they can continue to deliver their work that strives to contribute to the common good.
It’s a very real thing…
People tend to think it is a modern concept, but Corporate Responsibility has always been present in many businesses. Now that it has been given official terminology and more ‘lip service,’ it is now one of the first things to be considered within a business strategy. It is also one of the first things clients, customers and the future workforce look for on a business’ prospects.
“I wonder if my skinny, caramel latte is ethically sourced…” Sound familiar?
There is even now a professional body called ‘The Institute of Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability (ICRS)’. There are marks, awards and national benchmarking platforms to measure impact and outcomes. It’s a very real thing.
Of course, centuries before it was a common business term, we had ‘Corporate Philanthropy’. Those were the hay-days for charities: when a company would just write out a large cheque…
My journey began in London, UK
I have worked in the (mine)field of Corporate Responsibility for just under 10 years.
I started my career working with national education charities during the recession. The days of Corporate Philanthropy were coming to an end. Charities had to work more smartly to garner business favour.
Partnerships were now the thing! It was actually fairly easy. In London, the business needs the charity as much as the charity needs the business.
I had businesses approach me and invite me in to pitch for their partnership. I would often be up against 5 or 6 other charities that fit the business’ societal vision. The board would pick their favourite and it would then usually go to an employee vote. It was a long process, but always strategic, planned and good fun. It was almost entirely mutual.
How does it work with big businesses?
The third sector is great at filling a gap in society, and the big businesses ‘get’ that, realising they need to be associated with a good cause. Especially when the charitable organisation they partner with is providing a service that fits with their business objectives.
When embarking on a charity partnership, big businesses’ focus is on various societal and environmental needs. Attempting to ‘fix’ these issues becomes part of their overall business vision.
The biggest challenge would always be encouraging businesses to fund our charity staff costs. E.g. the chairs for the staff to sit on and the roof over their heads. This is in addition to the ‘sexier’ stuff such as the education programmes, where the humanitarian impact is clear.
Moving to suburbia…
I came to work for a local, ‘suburban’ charity over 2 years ago and the culture is entirely different. It’s fantastic, but different.
There isn’t the feeling that the need is mutual. It doesn’t feel like the business needs the charity, as much as the other way around. In fact, sometimes it comes close to feeling like begging.
I spent much of my first year working at St Clare trying to meet with local businesses. My aim was to convince them that I really was interested in listening and learning about what they needed. I was keen to strip the word ‘fundraiser’ from my job title, so I could start to focus on partnerships.
Ultimately, charities need money. It is the only way they can exist and continue to fill that gap in society. There is no denying that, and I have always been transparent in my conversations with local businesses.
However, charities understand that they need to bring something to the partnership party, too, and are fully versed in the benefits for businesses.
The culture in suburbia
Unfortunately, Corporate Responsibility is still not a common term. Thus, more often than not, there is no budget or personnel dedicated to it.
Yet, despite the obvious benefits to small/medium businesses who partner-up with their local neighbour charities, I still find that they are not looking for strategic charity partnerships that fit with their overall vision.
Instead, businesses endeavour to support their local charities out of sentiment.
‘Charity of the Year’ type partnerships seem to be popular, as they appease the many different backgrounds, emotions, motivations, prejudices and persuasions of the employees. Often, it will come down to an employee vote. This is usually the easiest and certainly most democratic way to choose.
However, sometimes a local business chooses to support us because the Managing Director has been affected by our care in some way. These businesses give and give and give and expect little in return. They are amazing, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without them.
Charities aren’t expected to be a part of the process
I will never forget in my first month at a networking event, someone from a local business who I had been getting to know came up to me and said, “Brilliant news; I have put your charity forward to be our charity of the year”.
So, I replied, “Fantastic, when can I come and pitch?”
She looked at me as if I was from another planet.
And that is when I realised that things were going to be different from how I had worked up until then; the charity isn’t expected to be a part of the process, which takes time to adapt to.
Don’t get me wrong – we are lucky to have some incredible local businesses doing incredible things, and we are eternally thankful for their unconditional support. It literally means that we can continue to develop and improve our care services.
It can’t be a one-way relationship
At the same time, I have had a local business owner tell me that he feels ‘physically sick’ at the thought of his business benefitting from a partnership with our hospice charity. Some businesses simply want to give, give, give.
I definitely try to avoid making people want to be sick. However, Corporate Responsibility means that a business has to benefit! It’s what keeps the business coming back for more, so we charities can really start to plan our budgets.
So, you can see how it’s good for the charity, too, if the business benefits!
There seems to be a culture that charities need to be cuddled and looked after. This is a culture that gave birth to bake sales and coffee mornings. We love all that, and we need it. But we love the nitty-gritty, strategic stuff, too.
Businesses should unashamedly enter into a charity partnership for profit
Corporate Responsibility includes the activities that a business carries out to benefit its staff, society (big and small), the environment, and how it chooses to invest its financial return.
This is what is known as the triple bottom line; People, Planet, Profits.
Good Corporate Responsibility practice gives businesses a competitive edge and improved bottom-line as a result. Employee engagement, greater consumer loyalty and a more robust brand image are just some of the factors that contribute to this.
Businesses should unashamedly enter into a charity partnership on a for-profit premise. Why? The crux of it all is that an improved bottom-line fosters longevity, loyalty and a true relationship between the business and the charity.
It means that the relationship can continue to blossom for both parties to benefit from – and who doesn’t want that?
A culture shift
I really love my job. The challenges are certainly evident, but I enjoy being part of the revolution and accept that it will take years and years to shift the culture.
We have got some way to go but I am strapped in and ready for the ride!
I am here whenever a business is ready to chat about partnerships.
If a business wants to know more about Corporate Responsibility, then I am here to educate. When a business just wants to dip their toe in the water with some fundraising or volunteering, then that is fine, too.
I am here to listen.
Since I started my journey, I realised a passion for making businesses better, by empowering them to do better things. I will always champion local businesses, and will always strive to work hand-in-hand with them.
Amy Jacobs is the Corporate Partnerships Manager at St Clare Hospice. She has been working in the charity sector for nearly 10 years, building links between charities and businesses. This includes pitching to and managing relationships on the charity’s behalf, with ‘magic circle’ law firms and FTSE 100 companies. She has a degree in English Literature and Education, and pursues reading as a passion in her spare time, as well as yoga and football with her young family.
If you or your local business is interested in embarking on a corporate partnership with St Clare Hospice, please visit: www.stclarehospice.org.uk/get-involved/corporate-partnerships