Amanda Powell-Smith, director, Forster Communications
Amanda Powell-Smith, director, Forster Communications
A view from Amanda Powell-Smith

Think BR: Businesses find new purpose

There are four critical elements when developing progressive corporate responsibility strategies, writes Amanda Powell-Smith, director, Forster Communications.

NPower’s decision to divert its large sponsorship budget into community based projects is not a one off, or indicative of a short term trend. Businesses across the board are stepping back and looking at their purpose, and scrutiny of companies that are failing to live up to the consumer’s standards is high.

There is an increased expectation and pressure on companies to show they are responsible; businesses must be about more than just profit, they must recognise what they put into the community around them, as well as what they take out.

Corporate responsibility has evolved rapidly since its introduction in the 1960s. Many organisations now use a definition of CSR covering staff, suppliers, customers, environment and the wider community. It has spawned new job roles and new departments, and now CSR is evolving with increasing brand interpretation and the need to truly live your brand values.

It's six years since Marks and Spencer launched Plan A, and four years since Paul Polman took the helm at Unilever leading the company towards a more radical sustainable approach. But the opportunity to create clear philanthropy and charitable partnerships is more open.

The focus is moving from internal policy and one-off giving towards long term sustainable and impactful partnerships that make the most of a company’s core skills or assets. The opportunities for businesses are much larger than simply creating ‘nice PR’.

Research from organisations like BITC demonstrates that companies that gear their business towards community involvement reap the rewards of deeper engagement and stronger loyalty from customers.

There are many options for businesses to work on these partnerships. Fundraising can be one element and continues to be valued by charities but beyond this, awareness and a mutual exchange of services can also be critical.

What does business X have to exchange with charity Y? It might be as simple as a network and access to communicate vital health messages to a different group of individuals. This was the case when DVLA teamed up with NHS organ donation service to encourage more people to add themselves to the register while they were renewing their licenses.

It’s not just pressure from consumers and local communities that’s motivating these changes. Employees are also demanding more from the organisations they work for, irrespective of whether the organisation is a small start up, an SME or the biggest multinational.

Employees are becoming more active on the issues that matter most to them. Those organisations that choose to ignore these developments will therefore find recruitment and retention levels affected.

Here are four critical elements for developing progressive CSR strategies:

  1. Relevance

When Dulux paints deprived areas, engaging local residents through the ‘Let’s Colour’ scheme, the link between the business and the project’s goals is immediate and clear. Likewise the ‘Own a Colour And Help Save a Child’s Life’ initiative partnering with Unicef delivers impact and relevance using a simple tangible mechanism.

  1. Duration

Partnerships are not just for Christmas. Red Cross and Land Rover have worked together informally for many years, as Land Rover are a practical vehicle for the NGO to use in its field work. In 2007 the partnership was formalised and it has now developed into not just support through donation and gifts in kind but also through a skills exchange, mutually benefiting both organisations. 

  1. Integration

Partnerships have the power to engage a wide range of stakeholders. Initiatives are not just looking to work with one audience such as assisting with employee engagement, customers fundraising drives or corporate aid in kind. We are seeing more smart integrated programmes that engage all the businesses’ audiences. The Co-operative chose a logical partner with Carers Trust as it fits into their wider ambition of inspiring young people, including their staff, customers and other stakeholders.

  1.  Comprehensive approach

Business leaders now recognise that their CSR programme must be more varied and robust. There is an opportunity to work collaboratively to achieve more than simply generating short term cash boosts for partner organisation or initiatives. Organisations like City Gateway are benefiting from the opportunity to train young unemployed individuals in real office environments. 

Amanda Powell-Smith, director, Forster Communications