It’s better to give than to receive…
However when it comes to business ‘giving’ cynics would say that rather than making a commitment to building a better society what businesses are actually doing is taking advantage of tax breaks or just trying to ‘look good’.
Bah humbug… because we know that those businesses who commit to a corporate responsibility programme will, by improving staff engagement and morale, prove themselves to be an employer staff can feel good about and that customers and clients can relate to.
Culture and reputation is of course important but it is not the main reason why businesses are driven to do ‘good’.
If you are not authentic people will soon become sceptical and that can be extremely damaging.
So how can a business set the right tone – what is the key to a successful Corporate Social Responsibility programme?
Firstly, choose your charitable relationship carefully and develop longer term, more sustainable relationships with charities rather than giving one off donations.
Secondly, schemes have to be of mutual benefit to both the business and the charity – like all good relationships both sides must feel the benefit.
There can be many ways of measuring success, so it’s really important to have some clear goals in mind, and make sure those are shared and delivered for both partners. Having a good cultural fit between the two organisations is also vital.
Thirdly, it’s not just about money, charities can access the fundraising potential of employees as well as their skills. Even small businesses can help enormously by donating staff time.
There can be down sides too however.
We’ll ever forget the Enron experience. Enron was well-known for its CSR, and published social and environmental reports on all the good work it was doing. The trouble was; at the same time it was lying about its profits. When the truth came out, it led to the company’s collapse in 2001 while top executives were jailed for conspiracy and fraud.
Enron became a by-word for corporate ‘irresponsibility’, all of its community and environmental work undermined by the fact that it was carried out by a company with dishonest business practices.
An extreme example, but a lesson in how NOT to do CSR nonetheless.
Added to the nice-to-do CSR, need-to-do CSR has become more and more of a business consideration.
Within the construction industry in particular a CSR programme could mean the difference between landing a contract and not landing a contract.
For instance, when local authorities put jobs out to tender they will be openly explicit that their choice of developer and civil engineer, as well as materials suppliers, will be guided by how socially aware they are.
Incorporating a CSR element into a tender is now common practice. So the companies that win the contract will not only be the ones that can prove best capability and best value-for-money, they will also be the ones who can offer the best community involvement.
That can take the form of working with local schools and organisations, using local workers, making charitable donations, incorporating advanced sustainability, and sometimes a mix of them all.
A political shift in the last decade means the private sector is now expected to fill the gap left by the ever-shrinking public sector – businesses be warned.