The idea of achieving purpose alongside profit has been part of the business world for centuries, but the importance placed on it has reached new heights in recent years with an increased focus on ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues, informed by a longer-term view that we cannot afford to pursue profit without consideration for people and our planet.
Earlier this year, Pro Bono Economics published ‘Unleashing the power of civil society’, the final report of the Law Family Commission, which found that:
- nearly nine in ten (88%) members of the public now believe businesses should play a greater role in relation to social responsibility, tackling social issues, contributing to achieving net zero goals, and paying a fair share of taxes;
- consumers increasingly value and demonstrate loyalty to brands which have a social purpose. The majority (72%) of employees similarly believe purpose should hold more weight than profit;
- two-thirds of millennials consider businesses’ social and environmental commitments when they decide where to work, and many employers have found that a strong sense of purpose and support for volunteering are powerful tools to improve employee satisfaction, wellbeing, productivity and retention.
These are powerful business reasons for engaging on a deeper level with charities and the rest of the not-for-profit sector, beyond ‘charity of the year’ arrangements where the relationship is primarily one of fundraising for the chosen cause, although such initiatives remain very welcome, especially in these challenging times.
The Law Family Commission concluded that business and charity infrastructure bodies should urgently form a partnership focused on raising awareness of the benefits of links among both businesses and charities, to create opportunities for both sectors to come together where they have shared goals, and to spread resources that provide both sectors with the tools to overcome the barriers to working together. Tackling the current cost of living crisis should provide the initial impetus and focus for this, given the relevance for both sectors.
On 11 October 2023 Shoosmiths convened a group of businesses and voluntary, community and social enterprises (‘VCSEs’) to explore the scope for collaboration for mutual benefit, speaking with four leaders from the charity sector and hearing from Pro Bono Economics and from the VCSCE Observatory.
Pro Bono Economics explained:
- how such opportunities are often undervalued and overlooked;
- too often viewed in isolation, or ignored altogether; and
- how there is no easy mechanism for matching supply to demand.
We heard from the VCSE Observatory about data problems, which can impede the charity sector’s collaboration with business, in particular:
- data which is fragmented, disjointed and short-term;
- a charity sector that cannot articulate its needs; and
- decision-makers who cannot effectively allocate resources
but which also outlined the potential to create a commonly shared approach to data, with a shared set of indicators, resources and analytic capacity.
Our guest charity leaders explained the practical ways in which their organisations have advanced their purposes with the assistance of corporate partners. For example:
- for many years Leicestershire YMCA has been pioneering how to provide opportunity to disadvantaged young people, in particular care leavers, and explained how the charity sector needs to change the narrative, to one where the resilience of young people who have already navigated multiple difficulties in their short lives should be celebrated and recognised as an asset by potential employers
- in its first five years Only a Pavement Away has already helped to reintegrate into mainstream society over 400 former homeless people by working alongside charities and businesses to get people “work ready” and then facilitating their employment in the hospitality sector
- working in a vast urban space, London Wildlife Trust saw the opportunity for nature in working with rather than against house developers to create appropriate green spaces around new homes, developing an expert consultancy which has generated an important income stream, at the same time as directly promoting the restoration and conservation of the environment
- through its innovative work using theatre and the arts to transform lives by challenging us to look afresh at inequalities, Odd Arts has already made a Shoosmiths audience consider what being anti-racist might look like when we witness microaggressions in the workplace which we might be tempted to ignore
There is a framework for charities to collaborate with business. Above all charities must not lose sight of the overriding need to act only to advance their own purposes and in their own best interests.
But sharing such success stories provides a glimpse of the huge potential to establish cross-sector connections, to inspire two sectors that traditionally may have had diverging agendas to come together in order to identify and implement win-win solutions to common problems.
On the afternoon of Tuesday 7 November the next event in our programme of ‘Business Doing Good’ will focus on the use of corporate foundations to advance a business’s ESG agenda, and on ways of joining the dots by deploying the skills and energy of its staff to provide time-limited and focused professional support to strengthen the capabilities of VSCE organisations.
Those commercial organisations interested in joining us should RSVP here: Business Doing Good: Some practical steps your company can take (shoosmiths.com)