Funding story: Corporate social responsibility

It can be more difficult to approach companies than foundations, so how can charities get the most out of CSR?

There is a cliche in the world of corporate social responsibility that the company of the future is the socially responsible company. What does that mean in terms of companies' relationships with the third sector, and how do they compare with the corporate grant-making foundations that some of them have set up?

The Changing Nature of Corporate Responsibility, a joint report by corporate responsibility consultancy the Smart Company and the Charities Aid Foundation, was published this July. It looks at a range of foundations, from major players in grant funding that are very distinct from their founder companies, to those that have yet to establish that distinction.

"We've found corporate foundations to be very approachable," says Rob Kerr, a fundraiser at eating disorders charity Beat, who contributed to the report. "There's a sense they have more responsibility to stakeholders and want to demonstrate their effectiveness."

Kerry Manton, business development manager at the British Lung Foundation, elaborates on the distinction between companies and their foundations.

"Approaching companies is often more challenging than approaching corporate foundations," she says. "A foundation always has a central contact for information and advice. Although companies have guidelines, they do not always make it completely clear what exactly they are looking for, or what sort of relationship they want with you."

The corporate social responsibility agenda can make this confusion worse. Companies want to be seen as socially responsible, and although this might mean more volunteering in the local community, or away-days spent painting the local playground, it doesn't necessarily equate to a rigorous 'contract' with the organisations they fund. Foundations tend to have a rather more up-to-date appreciation of the sector's professionalism.

Sheila Smith-Rawnsley, chief executive of disability information and advice service Directions Plus, says charities need adequate resources to work with businesses effectively.

"There is a lot of value to be gained from working with companies," she says. "But you have to invest time in reaching them, and that requires a full-time person dedicated to fundraising."

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