All things being equal (price, quality, service, timing), consumers tend to lean towards the company with the better ethics.
This can seem like a rather fairweather approach to take to ethics, that’s potentially a lot of hoops a company has to jump through first before we get to the ethics, but we do get to the ethics.
Companies of all sizes are engaging in corporate social responsibility. Whether it’s BSkyB going carbon neutral, or radio stations such as Key103 setting up its own charity, fast food chains stating they won’t use battery eggs anymore, or small independent clothes shops like Moo Boutique sourcing ethically made products, the list gets long.
Charities for their part, start to get switched onto which big companies will have employee volunteering schemes, or which ones will run a fundraising day for them. Some will have a charity of the year scheme and others will build a longer-term relationship with a charity.
So why do companies do it?
It can be good practice to have “something else” that makes you stand out. It is not an accident that for many companies their social responsibility employee(s) sit under PR or marketing. Some approaches tend to view it as an easy win on team-building or staff morale, without actually thinking through what they are doing or why they are doing it.
And this is where impact practice comes in.
Many companies miss out on making the most of their CSR practice. Often it’s added on at the end, frequently employees are simply allowed to choose a charity of the year and fundraise for them, or choose a charity and use their allocated volunteering days for them. This can be a great way to develop your staff and help them feel engaged, but it doesn’t give you a strategy to build on.
With this approach there is no vision, or clear direction to follow, which means identifying success becomes harder, which means companies have no clear idea of whether their CSR is working.
Of course, handing a cheque to a charity for £500 or £5000 or £50,000 is a nice feeling, and gives you a short-term company headline. You assume that the charity will be able to do good things with the money.
This only scratches the surface.
Your company will have a vision or mission statement. It might even be embedded in your strategy and practice on how you move your company forwards and build sales or relationships. You can build a relationship with a charity that can help you deliver on this aim.
Two of my favourite examples come from The Samaritans. They have built a successful relationship with Network Rail. It’s a strategic partnership. As soon as I mention it, the person I am speaking to will nod and say ‘of course, that makes sense.’ There is more information here.
Another relationship they have built is with the NFU – The Voice of British Farming. With suicide rates among farmers being high, this is again a partnership that is considered and well thought out.
These are two organisations that recognise they can help each other to make a bigger difference.
When you are looking at your corporate social responsibility, the first thing to look at is what your company is trying to achieve. The next step is to build the conversation around what difference you would like to make, and to investigate whether a charity can help you deliver on that aim. It may be your social responsibility work is designed to build staff morale, it may be that you’ve tapped into a national movement such as the growing awareness around free-range chickens and you want to reassure your customers that they can trust you, it may be that you’re struggling to recruit entry level staff with an appropriate level of literacy. Each of these starting points would lead to very different engagement with CSR.
Thinking about your CSR strategically, can lead to you achieving more and better things. It won’t do this if you treat it as an afterthought or a one-off PR headline.