Don’t forget the charities

By Tessa Kipping 1 October 2013 2 minute read

In response to a government consultation on a new framework for corporate responsibility (CR), we warn that charities must  be included and recognised as an integral part of a healthy CR ecosystem.

CR is a broad term that encompasses a mass of stuff, from volunteering to recycling light bulbs, regulating supply chains to giving grants to charity. It generally infers an add-on to the core business activities of the business, and usually hints at some type of charity partnership in its delivery.

Companies are increasingly aware that the public (their customers) expect them to be more responsible. There are a number of ways of doing this, but I worry that all too often ”new” ways of doing business forget about the good and tireless work of the charity sector.

We at NPC don’t support companies to manage their supply chains internationally or champion small business in the UK—but we do measure impact, and this we do well. In our experience, many companies lack a sophisticated approach to CR activities and are at the beginning of their measurement journeys. When we work with corporate clients, we advise that businesses should have a strategy for CR and should report CR activities using a tailored theory of change model; adopt shared measurement frameworks in sectors where such practices are developed; measure and report on what they do; and strengthen the charity sector as a whole by selecting and supporting charities in ways that reflect best practice. In truth, many do few—if any—of these things.

We are also noticing a growing trend towards integrated CR, or a shared value approach, where CR activities are increasingly being expressed through business activities that, as a by-product, create social good. Shared value is becoming a term used by business to show that there are social benefits that can be achieved alongside, and as a product of, profit maximising activity. This trend highlights a reduction in additional corporate activities designed and intended to address specific social problems.

However, companies must not fall into a trap of side-lining traditional types of socially responsible behaviour—like  grant giving, donations and philanthropy—in favour of more business-type solutions. It may help to reduce extra budgets, but changing business behaviour alone will not be enough to tackle the raft of social problems we encounter in the UK and beyond.

CR activities must recognise the value that charities bring to the table, both by their local insight and specific knowledge of a cause. And charities must continue to be supported by the private sector in order to carry on their work: these partnerships, those that are well measured and thought out and each sector’s expertise is recognised and respected, will yield the most fruit.