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why should you have a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) programme

I was recently asked why have a CSR programme? I mean it’s all very worthy but what actual benefit does it provide to your business and couldn’t you just write a cheque?

So after 25 years personal experience of various community activities I thought I would have a go at explaining why we do it.

For a start ‘CSR’ is not a different category or department it is a clumsy catchall somewhat Soviet phrase that simply reflects the mixed bag of reasons why people run businesses. CSR is business and business is CSR.

In my eyes a CSR programme is not entirely altruistic. Our partners receive fundraising, resources and time our staff have fun, a sense of added purpose, contributing to the community around them and achievement  of hitting targets and goals. It works for both parties.

Not all businesses are run for profit exclusively. Indeed I know of very few SME’s that are run entirely for profit. SME’s are the vast bedrock of the country. SME’s (in which I include all small businesses under 250 staff) are run for profit, for jobs, for social development, for family and handing the business down through generations, for earning enough to have season tickets at the local football club, enough to pay for the works outing at the 20-20 cricket, for seeing young graduates develop and flourish and build careers, for bringing back to work mums, taking a chance on the local lad who needs a break, sponsoring the local half marathon, helping the local homeless charity buy some  more blankets. The motivations become blurrier, the P&L greyer when you actually analyse some of the decisions met by business owners. For years we were told to measure a company largely by its profits but I suspect beaten and bloodied by successive recessions people are finding their own measures of what success and failure look like and crucially feel like.

l know of big corporates that have their own departments well staffed and well funded that deal exclusively with CSR- but there can be an overpowering  sense of them doing it because they have to- paying a conscience tax. I’m reminded of these celebrity Foundations that sit idle for large parts of the year waiting for the wandering attention of their patron. Well intentioned undoubtedly but not really very connected or engaged to anything.

SME’s are instinctively working within the community for instance they eat at the local sandwich go to the local pub, their kids are at school together. For an SME it’s much easier to be relevant to the Community and genuinely part of it.

In finding a Partner  you need to find a cause that mirrors your own values or even has values that you aspire to- there are some inspirational organisations out there. But you also need to find people who are easy to communicate with and get things done with, a lot of time can be wasted if your organisations aren’t attuned. Also be absolutely clear about what you hope to get out of the partnership and be realistic about what you can deliver and write it down. Be clear about an exit strategy don’t leave your partner in the lurch but also don’t over commit or be vague about how fluid you would like the relationship to be. Also in the first throws of an exciting partnership  enthusiastic but unrealistic objectives are needless and counter productive.

We asked our staff what they would be interested in exploring and held presentations with organisations .We found our team were interested in the difficulties experienced by the homeless in Brighton, something that we all have seen grow in recent years. ROCC work within the Social Housing sector so there seemed to be a natural fit and at least nominally, a common language and reference points.

We didn’t want to be The Cheque People we wanted the relationship, in a small way (let’s not think this is anything other than making an incrementally small difference)  to enrich the lives of the charity we were working with and of our own people.

Our goals with our partners are both financial and resource driven. They are quite modest but achievable. We aim to surpass them. Whether it’s a thing called CSR or just how the way you run your business is for you to decide.

Posted Tuesday, May 12th, 2015 by Luke Aldrich

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