A few months ago I wrote a blog about how charities should be honest about what they are seeking from a corporate partnership. The emails I have got since have prompted me to write this from the perspective of the corporate partner, and pose the question – what do you really want from your charity partnerships?
Companies should be framing their charity partnerships and community investments as strategic initiatives. To be truly successful the strategy pursued should align with the business objectives of the company.
When embarking on any strategic initiative you need to be clear about what you are seeking to achieve – you need to set objectives – and then define metrics to measure whether you have achieved those objectives. This is Strategy101. But how many organisations set objectives with their charity partners? And how many set business related objectives for their community investment programmes? And how many then define metrics and measure the progress towards these business objectives? The answer to all three questions, we have found, is very, very few!
Part of the reason is that too often the programmes and initiatives that are run under the banner of Corporate Responsibility simply aren’t viewed as strategic and, as such, companies do not seek to set objectives and measure the determinable value that they create. Too many CSR departments are still viewed as ‘cost centres’ and the programmes seen as ‘tick in the box’ activities or PR exercises. Embarrassment is also a factor. Companies are in a short-term, ‘do-gooder’, philanthropic mind-set, rather than a long-term, shared value mind-set.
One of the main advisory services that we provide at thirdbridge is to support companies in the development of a strategic mind-set to community investment, helping them to identify the objectives that are important to them and how ‘community investment’ can help to achieve those objectives. The ‘bottom line’ value for companies is at the forefront of these conversations. If we can help organisations prove that community investment programmes have a positive impact on bottom line profits, then the possibilities for scale and positive social impact suddenly open up.
Five examples of strategic business objectives that we have seen companies address through their community investment programmes (and that ultimately have a positive impact on bottom line profits) are:
- Reducing employee attrition – there is a mountain of evidence that shows the link between employee volunteering programmes and the impact on engagement, motivation and, ultimately, commitment of employees.
- Attracting the top graduate talent – again, irrefutable evidence that ‘millennials’ want to work for companies that embody their values and do more than just make money – community investment programmes are a great way to leverage this, helping companies win the, so-called, war on talent.
- Developing skills in the workforce – a lot of research proving that running skills based volunteer programmes are more effective and cheaper(!) than classroom based training in developing the skills of employees.
- Improve reputation amongst customers – there is a real change underway in consumer buying habits – people want to buy products from responsible companies – businesses need to be acutely aware of this and ensure their external reputation reflects what consumers want.
- Identify new market opportunities – developing products or services with charity partners that have knowledge and experience in previously untapped markets is a truly symbiotic approach that presents huge opportunities to companies – from the ageing population in the developed world, to the booming middle classes in emerging markets.
Companies should not be embarrassed about pursuing business objectives related to their community investment programmes, and the public should not a cast a cynical eye at such objectives. Doing this will help make such community investments strategic and valued – it means that companies will be willing to do more because it is a business investment as much as a community investment. Ultimately, it will mean such activities become business as usual – and that is how true scale and real value for society will be delivered.
Blog written by Rick Benfield, CEO of thirdbridge