a group of smiling people

Creating a business case for social responsibility

By Guest contributor 17 July 2014

Kate van der Plank leads National Grid’s UK community action programme which includes employee volunteering, citizenship and charity partnerships with organisations such as Teach First, CSV, Macmillan, Special Olympics GB, and the Scouts.  

Charitable giving across the corporate sector, according to the London Benchmarking Group model used by 73 businesses, was £391m last year—a  phenomenal funding stream.

Of all charity sector supporters, corporates are arguably the most transparent in their motives.  One of their primary goals is to make a profit, so they’re pretty open about wanting to get something out of what they put in.

A social return is also critical to the business case, as being able to evidence and articulate the social impact of community investment is good for corporate reputation.

At National Grid, we invest around £10m in UK communities each year through our charitable giving programmes. So it’s essential we manage our funding with the same rigour and accuracy as any other spend.

Decisions, therefore, about who and what to support are increasingly smart and strategic: we want our investment to create tangible shared benefits for our business, our employees and the communities we operate and live in.

We’re not just looking for a logo on a leaflet or a poster in return for financial support.  We want clear targets and measurable impact in everything we do when it comes to community action.

Charitable organisations that can show they already have measurement systems in place and can provide robust social impact data are definitely ahead of the game because it supports our aim to create real shared value. We want to invest in projects or build partnerships that are mutually beneficial to the business as well as the voluntary sector organisation or society overall.

A key consideration for us is the ability to measure the impact volunteering has on our employees, from both a professional and personal development perspective.  We do this through quantitative and qualitative surveys on completion of the project or secondment. This can range from what skills and experiences have been gained from a Community Action Day to a longer term project such as volunteering at Special Olympics GB, just two of our current community action initiatives. Measurement is on several levels:  impact on the community organisations we support and their beneficiaries; impact on the employee and overall impact and value for the business.

We have recently developed a unique interactive Community Action & Skills Hub, which allows us to focus on high quality, skills-based volunteering where we can achieve the greatest social impact, whilst at the same build the capability of our organisation. The Hub helps our employees select a volunteering activity that will best enable them achieve their personal development goals through the development of vital business and leadership skills.

Corporate community investment is today much more sophisticated and is about generating all-win outcomes. By recognising the need to create a return for their corporate supporters, charities will create a winning formula.