Helen Wadham: CSR is about a lot more than money

The best collaborations go way beyond just getting more cash, says the senior lecturer at Staffordshire University

Helen Wadham
Helen Wadham

The shortlist for the Business Charity Awards in May was announced a couple of weeks ago. One of the judges described them as "quite the strongest applications I have assessed", and so they might well be.

According to Third Sector Foresight, corporate giving currently accounts for only 5 per cent of charities' income, but as spending cuts continue, organisations are stepping up their engagement with potential funders from the business sector.

Inspired by the success of shortlisted groups such as Community Links, Oxfam and the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, it is tempting to get writing to potential corporate funders.

However, even the largest companies are also suffering, so the worst thing we can do at the moment is to fire off letters indiscriminately or pin down unsuspecting (and unlikely) targets at networking events.

According to one corporate friend rattled by the unwanted attention showered on him at a recent CSR event, many charities do just that.

The motivation might be to get more cash to support the people we are here to serve, but the best collaborations go way beyond this.

Thinking about my own particular area of interest - international development - Jane Nelson of Harvard University suggests that businesses can make a difference through the philanthropic donations we all know and appreciate.

But they also contribute to development through policy work with governments and - perhaps most important of all - through their core business activities. Businesses and the charities they support can make the most difference when two or more of these areas come together.

This becomes clear if we examine the relationship in a category such as 'Best long-term partnership'. Take, for example, the shortlisted community food network Fareshare and the catering company Brakes. Over the past year, the food firm has donated about a million meals that are past their maximum shelf life but still 'in date'.

Fareshare passes these meals on to people living in hostels, day centres and refuges. As well as helping vulnerable people, Brakes has saved money and lowered its carbon footprint, because it has, in the past, paid for this food to be collected as rubbish and disposed of in landfill sites.

If a careful decision is made about which firm to approach, a charity can not only benefit from additional fundraising, but can share its knowledge in a way that enables the company to deliver on its promises to customers and society. Put like that, any potential donation looks cheap at the price.

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