OPINION: Business and charity can go hand in hand

GERALDINE PEACOCK, chief executive of the Guide Dogs for the Blind Association

Over the past few weeks of writing these columns, I have often referred to the growing importance of relationships between the voluntary and private sectors. While both have significantly different motives for existing, there are a surprising number of areas where they cross over and feed from each other.

The voluntary sector is primarily concerned with social objectives, rather than driven by the need to maximise profit, but I think that charities can be business-like without compromising on their values. You can still meet people working in the voluntary sector for whom the term "business

is anathema, because they believe it implies being profiteering and uncaring.

Not so.

The present Government is an enthusiastic advocate of using business solutions to achieve public good. It sees social enterprises having a distinct and valuable role to play in helping create a strong, sustainable and socially inclusive economy.

The distinctions between business and charity are blurring. Charities can reap the rewards of companies' social responsibility programmes, but blue-chip companies are also looking to the voluntary sector for ideas.

Marks & Spencer and Zurich Financial Services, for instance, recently gained much positive PR recognition for introducing socially worthwhile projects using staff as volunteers.

Twinning schemes between the corporate and voluntary sectors have become widely accepted as a way of driving up productivity and competition for both. I have personally experienced just how beneficial such a partnership can be. A few years ago, when I was working at the National Autistic Society, Zurich Financial Services helped us develop a marketing strategy and provided financial support for our print requirements. In return, we offered them advice on retaining women in senior management positions and helped develop a diversity strategy. We all shared ideas about motivating and managing staff, drawing on experiences from both sectors and exploring how they could be applied to the other.

As long as the values and policies are clear, and financial sustainability assured, the sector differences really don't matter. What is important is that each sector can identify its unique selling points and work with the other to the benefit of all.

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