Companies are increasingly looking for mutual benefits and projects that address issues relating to their business when picking charity partners, according to a panel of corporate representatives.
Opening a discussion at a conference in London yesterday about how to get more from corporate partnerships, Tom James, a director of the organiser Three Hands, a company that arranges partnerships between businesses and community projects, said a senior corporate responsibility manager had told him "just creating social value was no longer an option".
Bola Gibson, head of community engagement at Lloyds Banking Group, told delegates during the discussion, called Innovative Community Projects that Address Business Challenges, that the bank’s employees often wanted volunteering projects that went beyond painting fences. They wanted to use their skills and take part in something related to their jobs, she said.
Lloyds had therefore developed a volunteering programme in which senior staff members work with charities that relate to aspects of their roles, she said - for example, managers involved with diversity and inclusion worked with an anti-racism campaign and the head of disability volunteered at a disability charity.
Gibson, who provides a volunteering programme for 30,000 staff and runs the bank’s community fund, which awards small grants to organisations nominated by staff and chosen by a public vote, said that involving director-level staff in volunteering related to their roles meant that they set the standards. "It shows they are participating and engaging in high-value activities for themselves and for the community," she said.
One of the organisations involved with the Lloyds volunteering programme is United Response. Diane Lightfoot, director of communications and fundraising at the charity, which supports people with learning disabilities, physical disabilities and mental health problems, said: "It is about doing something practical for corporates."
The charity has challenged the Lloyds team to create a business case that shows how employing someone with a learning disability can improve its bottom line.
Richard Brophy, head of corporate responsibility at the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, said his role had changed. At first it had involved finding opportunities for staff that were very local, he said, but recently it had shifted to a much more international focus on developing countries and issues such as human rights and climate change.
"I think there is a bit of tension around how we maximise the stuff we do locally," he said. This has led to the company towards creating schemes that provide tangible results, he said: "There is less of the going out and more of the bringing people in."