charity shop window

A while ago, I was asked to appear in a Mountbatten Hampshire video to answer the question “Why should business engage with charities?”. You can see the video here:

This blog expands on my response and adds several things to bear in mind should your business engage with charities.

The reasons can be summed up as the Three Cs – culture, credibility and communication.

Engage with charities to improve your culture

Businesses can enhance internal culture by developing a strong partnership with a relevant charity. Employees who recognise that their employer acknowledges its role in the good of society show more loyalty, productivity and are more likely to make great brand ambassadors. This is particularly true when the employees have a large say in the choice of charity and the project with which they will be involved.

It’s also recognised that, when people look past their own needs to those of others, it improves their mental health. Paul Hannam’s book ‘The Wisdom of Groundhog Day’ makes this central point. At a time when we are all faced with an extended period of working in unusual conditions without the normal social interaction in our workplaces, employers who protect the mental health of their workforce and provide them with volunteering opportunities will not be forgotten.

And, if you are concerned about lockdown, there are plenty of charities for whom your team can volunteer remotely.

Enhance your credibility

Working with a charity activates your corporate purpose. Purpose is a buzzword in business, but actions beat words any day. Over time, a well-chosen charity partnership backed up by commitment and resources, enhances the reputation of a business.

The most-admired partnership between a corporate and an NGO remains that between GSK and Save the Children. Since its start in 2013, this partnership has helped save the lives of thousands of the world’s most vulnerable children. It’s all about defining the right project with the right charity to create maximum impact. Innocent’s partnership with Age UK to create the Big Knit is a simple creative idea which has had massive impact and is still going strong.

Strengthen your communications

Of course, charity work gives you a story and it’s not just about traditional media these days. Your charity partnership will give your business the opportunity to communicate your work through a range of social and digital media as well as expanding your reach by working with the charity’s own PR team. Use all the channels to report the work you’ve done together and its impact. Charity stories provide an opportunity to focus PR on the employees who’ve really made a difference rather than the MD or Chief Exec. They humanise the company.

And a few caveats

Charity work is not about ‘ticking the CSR box’. Like any business venture, your partnership will only work if you mean it and commit to it. Long-term commitments are much better than a single fund-raiser.

Choose your charity with care. It’s got to be a partnership that aligns with your company values and your business strategy. Otherwise, it’s simply a random bit of philanthropy; fine of itself, but not likely to lead to sustained business benefit.

And never forget it’s a partnership, so the charity will be making sure you align with them too. BP and Capita are just two of the firms whose sponsorship deals have faced a backlash in recent years because of reputational issues.

Finally, don’t just assume that charity needs what you want to give. There seems to be a vogue in ‘team-bonding via painting things for charity’. Don’t do it. Unless you are a painting and decorating company. Well meaning amateurs are not what any charity needs just now. So, before you get stuck into what you can bring, talk to your preferred charity, form a relationship, collaborate on what they really need.

Ultimately, how you engage with charities is just like any other business question. What is the problem the charity needs to overcome? How can my company help them solve the issue? Go on; ask. The answer might surprise you and be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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