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Why charities must approach corporates in a targeted way
I've worked in the area of corporate community investment for about 15 years and, while the types of charitable support we provide has changed little, the world of corporate social responsibility (CSR) has moved forward and altered.
Today's corporates look for far more than just being seen as socially and environmentally responsible. These are still key considerations when giving time or money to charitable organisations or community groups but, increasingly, businesses are looking for a strategic return on their community investments.
Corporate giving has therefore evolved from a largely philanthropic approach, with a focus on responsibility, to corporate social investment (CSI), where the focus is very much on demonstrating a return – both business and social – for funds invested.
Now, corporate community investors are looking to align any support to their business strategies. The relationship is far more balanced – for example, the corporate partner may have more financial assets, such as money or time, but the charity partner brings other resources such as expertise, knowledge and service delivery in their specialist area. There are also reputational benefits and stakeholder engagement opportunities for the corporate partner.
As a result, some of the most effective CSR initiatives have been achieved through corporates strategically aligning with charities that have a shared interest in a specific social issue.
To be successful both partners need to be completely transparent about their objectives and motives. In the past, companies have been circumspect about the business intentions behind their community investments for fear of being seen as too commercial.
But should they have to when they are making a financial donation or giving the precious time of their employees? Being transparent about the business reasons can demonstrate a real and lasting commitment to community investment. If the chief executive or finance director of the corporate community investor can see a business return then they are likely to keep investing in the future.
Larger organisations are also becoming much better at evaluating the skills development and the engagement levels of each employee and then monitoring how they apply new skills gained to their roles within their daily jobs.
Volunteering really succeeds within an organisation when it plays a major role in personal development plans and brings increased job satisfaction and improved relationships between colleagues.
Ultimately, corporate organisations want to make things easier for charities to understand how they fit into the bigger picture.
Making relationships work
So what do community groups need to do to succeed in the world of corporate social investment?
I still receive approximately 100 letters, calls or emails from people a month requesting some kind of assistance. I recognise that time and resource are increasingly scarce in the third sector. However, a standard letter, pitching and asking for money, rarely works anymore. Instead, do your homework to ensure a targeted approach. Understand the types of community activities that companies are supporting and the key business drivers for investment.
The charities and community organisations that I have been impressed with are those that look at opportunities for the corporate investor so it is not a one-sided relationship.
What can you do to help your cause?
In summing up, I would urge charitable organisations to use the following checklist when looking to attract the attention of larger companies:
Get the approach right and it will be worth the investment in time and effort.
Written by Kate Van Der Plank
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